Editor: For those who might not know me, I have been involved in high-school activities since the fall of 1980, both as a teacher as well as a girl’s basketball coach.
There are probably very few individuals, male or female, who have committed themselves to a life of instruction and coaching of Fairfax County’s youth as much as I have. Every summer from 1981 to the present, I always looked forward to the start of a new school year, so I could be in the classroom teaching and coaching on the basketball floor.
I am writing today to share my thoughts regarding the continuation of interscholastic play during the pandemic – in particular, how our ability, as coaches, to provide a safe haven for our players, staff and ourselves has been hampered by an inconsistent application of protocols.
To be clear, I feel safe in the Fairfax Field House. In large part, because our school leadership has worked hard to provide a safe environment. I, also, believe the kids have “bought in.”
But think of this; players have to wear their masks 100 percent of the time, while officials can call a 32-minute game without one. Players can pull their masks below their chins and officials won’t/can’t tell them to pull the mask up. In addition, a person would be hard-pressed to mention one school that has not been put on “pause” due to a COVID outbreak since this season began.
Immediately prior to the start of the season I sent a letter to Tom Dolan of the Virginia High School League, sharing my concerns. (Mr. Dolan promptly responded with an appropriate reply.)
I wish that I could say that I was wrong, but since the season has started, there have been numerous positive tests; “pausing” of programs; parents and athletes dissembling about possible and real disease contacts; coaches, athletes and officials not wearing protective masks during competition. And things seem to be getting worse.
How can intensive extracurricular activities be played in an environment that has been deemed unsafe for students to come to school? I understand that there are many other complications implicit in allowing all students to return to the classroom. But the question as to why sports can be in the building and geometry students cannot has not been explained to my understanding.
As this season has unfolded, I have really enjoyed working with the Fairfax players. I believe that the kids, recognizing how fortunate they are to be playing sports, are working hard and are extremely appreciative of the “gift” that they have been given.
Unfortunately for me, while enjoying the work, increasingly I have become concerned due to the lack of transparency regarding the catastrophic environment that we work in.
Information is the key which enables coaches, students and family members to better plan and protect themselves. Having said that, we only learn of infections at other schools through word of mouth. At our schools, yes, we do a temperature check and ask a series of questions of each player and coach who enters our gym. To get around this, individuals only need to stand in the cold for a couple of minutes and their temperatures fall within the acceptable range. All anyone has to do is to say “no” to the question regarding health history and, regardless of what is really happening, that individual is now cleared to participate.
By ignoring the pandemic, possibly at the cost of health and life, many or possibly all of the lessons we try to teach are undone.
Why? Because the players, and their families ,are not learning two of the most important concepts in life: perspective and transparency.
Pat Deegan, Centreville
Deegan is the coach of the Fairfax High School girls basketball team. Previously, he was head coach of the James Madison and Bishop O’Connell girls teams, winning state titles at each. He is a member of the Virginia High School League Hall of Fame and Madison Hall of Fame.