In an ideal world, I’d be beside myself, excited over the Utah High School Activities Association’s announcement that it plans to have a fall sports season, starting in just a few weeks.
But, as we all know, there has been nothing ideal over the past four months. Whether it’s being stuck inside our houses, working from home (or losing our jobs completely), taking online classes or any number of things we’ve had to deal with that go against what we consider normal or even fair, this pandemic has been a challenge for every single one of us. That’s why any optimism I have about the upcoming football, soccer, volleyball, tennis, golf and cross country seasons is tempered by a fair amount of caution.
I truly hope that the fall sport season can go off without any interruptions, and things look much the same as we’ve all gotten used to over the years. I would love nothing more than to be walking the sidelines at a football game when there’s a little chill in the air, telling me that there’s a region championship on the line. I want to be able to watch the state volleyball tournament from the stands in Orem. I’m looking forward to soaking up the sun from a golf cart or my camp chair outside of a tennis match or soccer match. I’m looking forward to the state cross country meet at Sugar House Park in October.
But, all of that is up in the air, and nobody can say with any certainty which way things are going to go. We could start the season on time, and have to shut things down completely because schools get closed again. Games could be canceled because teams are unable to travel.
You can’t help but to feel bad for the kids. Trust me, I know the value of high school sports. From the time I stepped onto the courts in Moab as a member of my high school’s junior varsity tennis team 21 years ago, I’ve been connected to sports at the prep level. I made lifelong friends through my involvement in sports growing up. I count some of my former coaches as the best mentors I had growing up, outside of my own family.
The games themselves might not seem like they’re an essential part of the educational experience, but the behind-the-scenes, day-to-day element of high school sports is hard to replace — almost as hard as losing the social aspect of seeing your classmates in the halls every day. For many students, playing a sport or participating in an activity provides much-needed structure. Having to keep their grades up to stay eligible can be the driving force behind graduating. It can even help give a 5-foot-7, 130-pound unathletic kid a place in the hierarchy of the high school social structure (one wonders where I came up with that example).
The idea of restarting high school sports is a noble one. It’s one I admire the UHSAA and its member schools for pursuing.
I really hope it works out. I’m just not totally confident that it will.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He is thankful that high school sports enhanced his experience growing up — even if it required filling up water bottles and running a video camera to earn his spot. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.