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Chris Masse on athletics: Did quick decision hurt Montoursville’s athletes?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Montoursville School Board voted 7-0 Wednesday morning at 1:23 a.m. to allow school district sports to resume play beginning Thursday. This decision came hours after it was confirmed initially the football and soccer team’s would have to forfeit their playoff games due to the school shutting down due to COVID-19 issues. Read more about the school board’s decision to allow sports to resume in Thursday’s edition of the Sun-Gazette.

Let me preface the following by stating that I am not ripping anyone or bashing the decision.

As I wrote last summer, these unprecedented times call for rational discussion and demonizing either side on the playing sports in the age of COVID-19 debate is fruitless. Strong cases can be made on either sides.

But I digress. The Montoursville Area School District announced Tuesday that, following consultation with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, it was going to remote learning and canceling extra-curricular activities from today through Nov. 3. As a result, the Montoursville football and girls soccer teams were forced to forfeit their weekend playoff games against Loyalsock and Troy. It was a painful blow to teams who were 7-0 and 10-4-1, respectively, and who had lofty postseason goals.

I totally understand the move to remote learning, understand trying to protect not just the students, but the entire community. But here’s the tricky part: Nobody on either Montoursville team has tested positive this year or been asked to quarantine due to close contact with an infected person. With that being the case, one can argue that those teams could keep playing.

Any decision these days involves risks, but on this one I lean toward letting the teams play. And don’t throw the asinine “you care more about sports than health,” accusation my way. No, I want everyone to be safe and think that these teams, like so many others through these difficult times, have shown that you can simultaneously stay safe and play.

I understand difficult decisions have to be made and I do not envy administration officials during these times. I understand their perspective, but I also believe that these teams have paid the price, dutifully done their jobs and put together excellent seasons. If those can continue in a safe manner, and I think they can, they should be allowed to pursue their goals. So much already has been taken from them and yesterday’s decision was like throwing gasoline on an inferno.

If this was the regular season, I think it is an easier call. But the football team had legitimate district and state final aspirations. The girls soccer team has a proud tradition and was eager to build on that as well. To put in all that time, make all those sacrifices and have no closure feels like a cruel blow. Who knows how each team would have performed, especially with both facing tough first-round challenges, but each one was excited to learn.

We are living in unprecedented times and have been since last March. The bad part is there is no end in sight and this virus is something we will be fighting for a long time. These unpredictable times call for more creative thinking. Not everything is black and white or hot and cold. Alternative plans must be prepared and implemented when called upon.

I think this is one of those times. Other teams have navigated this tricky field, dealing with COVID issues without canceling games, keeping people safe without taking away what makes so many athletes happy. Again, I totally understand the desire and necessity to keep people safe. I also understand that these are not just games to the students who play them. If one has never participated in sports it may be hard to comprehend, but the values that sports teach go beyond the scoreboard. It is about life lessons, teamwork, sacrifice and never giving up.

It is about establishing values that will help these athletes throughout life. From a mental health perspective in these crazy times, sports also provide these teenagers some desperately needed normalcy. The virus has caused so many problems, but studies also have shown how damaging virus-related decisions have been toward this age group.

“It is heartbreaking to tell your senior players their season is abruptly ending. It is very difficult for them to understand why our season is ending in this manner,” Montoursville girls soccer coach Vic Gorini said. “The decision someone made to shut our team down is unexplainable to the players. With no positive cases on the team and a season full of safeguarding procedures, we are as healthy and ready to compete as we have been all year.”

The Montoursville football team can say the same thing. Still, I get it, I really do. I understand this situation and just as many people will disagree with my sentiments as will agree. That is where we are right now.

There are no easy answers here. But there still is time. It is only Wednesday and I don’t think the forfeits are written in stone yet. I also don’t think Loyalsock and Troy would complain if the sports decisions were reversed. This is not how either team wanted to advance in the playoffs.

Nobody needs vilified here, but after all they have done on and off the field these Montoursville teams have earned their playoff opportunities. And I don’t think they should be taken away.

Chris Masse may be reached by email at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse

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