For 100 years high school football has been played in Texas. It is, along with other high school sports, essential to the fabric of many communities. In fact, high school sports are the main way that residents of many communities connect, but the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted this long tradition. Nonetheless, many coaches and athletes are prepared to take on the challenge. That’s why it’s important that every Texas community support their efforts.
The uncertainty of COVID-19 on athletics was put at ease when the University Interscholastic League recently announced sports schedules for the 2020-21 school year. After a canceled spring season and weeks of planning, athletes eagerly began taking to the fields and courts. Although some may ask why sports should take place during a pandemic, it is important to note that we should not devalue the importance of high school athletics and their impact on local communities.
As a former college athlete and now an education professor, I recognize the inherent value that sports have on coaches and students. That value also resides within communities, and after months of consistent hardship, they are ready to support high school sports. This means that as competitions get underway, communities must make and exploit opportunities to champion the coaches and students who will compete weekly this year.
High school sports bring a sense of pride to communities, especially at the beginning of a new school year. Even as districts have announced delayed school start dates, the need for sports continues to influence local decision-making. Also, having students participate in sports after a spring of canceled seasons has become a priority. Students whose spring seasons were canceled reported feeling isolated and questioned the importance of attending school.
And the impact doesn’t end there. Remote learning brings considerable challenges and requires students to engage with schools in unique ways. High school athletics provide an opportunity for students to engage with their teammates and coaches face to face, even if their school is still offering virtual instruction. Add on a global pandemic and a national conversation around racial injustices, and students are going to need their community’s support before, during and after competition. This includes resources that give students access to online platforms for learning and recognizing their value to the community every time they step onto the court or field.
“Friday night lights” symbolizes the pride of high school athletics within a community. As COVID-19 continues to occupy news headlines, communities are looking at those lights as a beacon of hope. High school sports should happen in Texas, and students willing to compete should be given the opportunity to do so.
With the help of state lawmakers, UIL has provided guidelines that should steer community practices as residents support high school athletics. Communities should follow these guidelines, and school officials should continuously educate the public about best practices related to safety while watching competitions. If the state is requiring masks in stadiums and arenas for high school sports, then communities should mask-up and do their part to ensure seasons do not come to a sudden stop.
Sports are necessary for our communities. A friend of mine often says that coaches need kids and kids need coaches. It is also true that coaches and kids need their communities’ support, and their communities need their coaches and kids to do well. As Texans, more of us should support our schools and their athletic programs, which are representing the best of our respective communities.
Joshua Childs is an assistant professor in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Waco Tribune Herald, Lubbock Avalanche Journal and the Amarillo Globe-News.