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Our View: Decision to sack tackle football lamentable though sound, but most youth sports must go on | COMMENTARY

Scenes like this, involving the Westminster Wildcats 8-under youth football team, won't be seen this fall as tackle football was banned in an effort to mitigate transmission of COVID-19.
Scenes like this, involving the Westminster Wildcats 8-under youth football team, won't be seen this fall as tackle football was banned in an effort to mitigate transmission of COVID-19. (Submitted photo)

The abdication by state and federal leadership in giving clear direction regarding measures needed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic has left local leaders grappling with numerous difficult decisions over the past few months. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as what works for Carroll County right now is, in many cases, not the same as what works for Garrett or Montgomery or Worcester counties.

Whether to allow youths to participate in sports in the middle of a health emergency — and if so, which sports? — is one of those difficult decisions county officials have been contemplating.

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During Thursday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, Jeff Degitz, the county’s director of recreation and parks, announced that local rec councils would be prohibited from offering tackle football, basketball and wrestling. He also went over stricter mask-wearing guidelines for participants and spectators at athletic events.

Degitz said the decision was based on input from parents and rec councils as well as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which lists football, basketball and wrestling as high-risk activities. Health Officer Ed Singer, who also addressed the commissioners Thursday, said he and Degitz agreed that allowing sports listed as “moderate” or “low” risk was the right way to proceed. So, as of now, soccer can be offered by rec councils this fall, but football can not, although non-tackle “flag” football might be allowed.

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It won’t feel like fall without kids playing the brand of football we are used to, but the decision makes sense. Players come into direct physical contact with each other every play, often facemask to facemask. That seems like a bad idea with a dangerous, highly contagious disease raging.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier voiced his concern about kids playing any sport at the same time they are forbidden from attending school in-person. After Singer explained the rationale for allowing the majority of sports to go on, Frazier said he was more comfortable but still apprehensive.

We certainly understand that opinion. But the risk for transmission outdoors, as kids are running, playing sports that have only occasional contact, is far lower than the risk for kids sitting in a classroom, breathing the same air all day long. And, of course, playing sports is not mandatory. Every family can decide.

As for masks at games, Degitz said spectators will have to wear facial coverings from the time they arrive at the facility until the time they leave. And athletes will have to wear masks to the field and whenever they are not playing, sitting on the bench or standing on the sideline (while also social distancing).

Singer encouraged mask use for all players during games, too, although we hope those decisions will be made on an even more “micro” level. For example, in baseball or softball, we see zero reason for an outfielder to wear a mask. But a first baseman, with runners zooming past the entire game? Maybe.

Singer also expressed his concern and disappointment that various travel sports programs (not associated with rec councils) have gone on with business as usual this summer, heading to hot spots across the country to play in big tournaments — bringing local kids into contact with kids from all over the country, with the potential of bringing the coronavirus home. It’s hard to argue with him there.

We lament the loss of youth tackle football, the latest casualty of the coronavirus, and hope the rec councils will be able to generate interest in flag football. We also hope by the time basketball and wrestling seasons begin in earnest, the pandemic will be on the wane, schools will be reopening and those seasons may be saved.

And we agree with the decision to allow rec councils to offer competition in moderate-risk and low-risk sports. Because while we are absolutely in favor of taking precautions and being safe wherever possible, we find a lot of physical and emotional value in sports and a lot of truth in what Commissioner Ed Rothstein said: “We cannot bubble wrap these kids.”

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