Let Them ALL Play!
When COVID-19 slammed into the United States last March schools were abruptly shut down along with vitally important Extracurricular Activities.
Nearly 7 months later, many schools are still shuttered, forcing millions of students and educators to navigate the unimaginable path of Distance Learning while forgoing the social interaction that is crucial to human development. Slightly over one month ago the group that oversees organized prep sports in Michigan announced there would be no fall season due to COVID. Now suddenly, after organized #LetThemPlay protest rallies in several states by coaches, parents, and players, in a move that appears to be motivated by greed, power, and control over high school athletes more than health science, the Michigan High School Athletic Association has convinced Governor Gretchen Whitmer to lift social distancing restrictions which will allow High School Football to return to the Friday night lights on September 18, 2020.
Perhaps it is an unpopular opinion but if high school football is so damned important that games must be played in the midst of a global pandemic then it is time to PROTEST at our state capitols to reinstate ALL Extracurricular Activities immediately!
Tommy McIntosh, a DeWitt HS junior football player, speaking at the August 28th rally on the steps of the Michigan Capitol building said, "This is about so much more than football…it's about mental health of kids.” Are football players more fragile than all the rest of high school students who are missing out on serious opportunities themselves?
Also at the rally, Mason HS football coach Gary Houghton was concerned about the negative impact it could have on student-athletes if sports fail to make a return this fall. That was part of his message. "My sophomore season we had fall sports canceled because of a failed millage, what I saw happen is what I'm concerned about might happen here throughout the state. We had an increase in alcohol and drug use among teens that would normally be playing football. We had some issues with behavior. I'm concerned.”
I personally have nothing against high school football, but just what exactly is it that makes it so much more important than the rest of a typical high school experience. Football is just one of a myriad of extracurricular activities that must be offered to all students without delay. Benefits of participating in extracurricular activities include better grades, higher standardized test scores and educational attainment, attending school more regularly, having a higher self-concept and, according to Coach Houghton, result in less drug and alcohol use.
Academic subjects like English, Math, and Science can be taught via distance learning but what about Music, Dance, and Theatre? They require live interaction and teamwork just like any sports team. There are more Marching Band members and Cheerleaders than there are football players on any given team…what about developing their future opportunities and mental health? Hundreds of Theatre, Dance, and Music performances have been cancelled and many more are being scrapped every day.
Regarding the multitude of high school theatre productions cancelled due to the pandemic, Tony-winning actress Laura Benanti says she feels for the young artists. “If I, as a grown adult, am struggling through this, I can only image what it feels like to a young person. If you’re looking forward to something all year long, and putting all of your love and time and passion into it, and then it’s taken away from you and you’re scared, that’s just a lot to deal with.”
Even as fine arts students connect with their classes and find ways to share their talent online, many are missing in-person interaction with their teachers. While rehearsing virtually, music students miss out on vital guidance from their music teachers. 17-year-old trombone player Gael Sanchez Tizo discusses virtual rehearsals, “Since I practice at home, sometimes I can’t tell what I need to improve on. Zoom is good, but because there’s a lot of reverb, the music sounds different. It’s hard to tell if you’re doing it right or wrong. It’s hard to get feedback.” He feels that not performing in front of an audience is an opportunity lost. “The shows we were doing, I’ve never done them,” he says. “I’m not going to have that to look back to when I’m older.”
Thousands of Arts students are missing out on developing the skills that will help them be better members of society in adulthood. What about a rally to Let These Kids Play, Too?
BRUCE F BROWN hails from Michigan where he received a BA from Michigan State University and was a member of the Spartan Marching Band. A recently retired fine arts educator, he spent his 33-year teaching career at Ft. Lauderdale’s Dillard Center for the Arts where he developed countless thespians who are working on Broadway and in theatres around the globe.