The following is a transcript of a statement made Tuesday to the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee, on the topic of scholastic sports during the COVID-19 pandemic, by Richland High School's director of educational services and head football coach, Brandon Bailey:
“This has been a controversial and divisive topic throughout the state as students begin to return to school this month. In my lifetime, there has never been anything as disruptive to everyday life as COVID-19. Before the pandemic hit in March, none of us ever experienced lockdowns or the sacrifices that had to be made by all of us in order to flatten the curve and not overwhelm our healthcare system.
“In my school district in March, our students participating in the school musical were devastated as their performance was canceled after working for months in preparation. Students and their parents were frustrated and saddened by missing events such as prom and graduation, not to mention the entire PIAA spring sports schedule.
“As a parent I was fortunate enough to watch my son as he had the game of his life leading into the PIAA quarterfinals on March 11 only to have the championships canceled, left wondering if they would have been the state champs.
“I am not one of these people who believes COVID-19 is a hoax. I have close friends who are now fortunately recovered from the virus. I also have friends and colleagues who have lost family members as a result of COVID-19. As a school administrator and as a football coach, it’s been difficult to watch the impact of the pandemic, how it’s impacted our community, our state and our country.
“In the early summer, all school districts were tasked with creating a health and safety plan for a safe return to school and also summer athletics and extracurricular activities.
“Our school superintendent asked me to lead this initiative in our district and appointed me to be the school’s pandemic coordinator. Working with our administrative team and key stakeholders such as students, parents, physicians, nurses and others, we put together a plan to ensure that our students could return to school in the activities they love.
“Our plan was approved on June 22 and we’ve had students on campus every day since. Throughout the summer we’ve had students participating in summer school, fine arts performances, athletics and more. We did this with safety being paramount and followed all the recommended protocols. To this date, we’ve had zero reported positive student cases within our school district. This included students who collaborated to perform the school musical and our athletic teams who participated in competition with schools throughout the region this summer.
“Our students have done everything that we’ve asked them to do and deserve the opportunity to participate in the things that they love to do this fall.
“Obviously, the virus will dictate that modifications need to be made to maintain a safe environment for the athletes and other participants. I believe that our students have shown throughout the summer that they can adhere to the modifications in order to participate in these activities that they are passionate about.
“Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine says that there isn’t a lot of granular data that led to her ‘no sports until 2021’ recommendation. I find her statement disappointing, as youth and recreational sports have safely continued throughout the summer in Pennsylvania.
“Here in Cambria County, I’m aware of hundreds of athletes who participated in youth baseball and softball leagues safely without any outbreaks of COVID-19. Specifically, the V.E./Arbutus youth baseball and softball leagues had 502 young athletes who participated in over 1,000 games this summer. I’ve confirmed that zero athletes in the league tested positive for COVID-19 this summer.
“As for school teams, our football program hosted a 7-on-7 football event with 11 teams and over 200 athletes in late July. These student-athletes and coaches all followed their school’s health and safety plan and the event was held without any COVID-19 issues.
“Nationally, a study was just released with over 6,500 youth soccer players in Southern California. Of these players, 15 were COVID-19 positive but there was no evidence of transmission from player to player after soccer games or practices.
“COVID-19 has impacted so many families and I personally pray for anybody that’s been affected. However, most people impacted are not young school-age students. In the most recent weekly report for deaths attributed to COVID-19 issued on Aug. 14, over 98% of Pennsylvania deaths were people who were over the age of 50. According to the Pennsylvania COVID-19 dashboard the rates of death and hospitalizations have decreased dramatically since the pandemic began.
“A recent survey by the University of Wisconsin of high school athletes across the nation suggests the cancellation of youth sports since the beginning of COVID-19 has taken a significant toll on the mental health and well-being of our adolescents.
“A study completed by a team of physicians, child health experts and researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that approximately 68% of the 3,243 student-athletes surveyed reported feelings of anxiety and depression at levels that would typically require medical intervention. That’s up 37% from past research studies.
“I often hear people say that we can’t afford to take the chance of allowing sports during the pandemic. With information as startling as this, I don’t think we can afford to not let these students play.
“Home confinement during COVID-19 puts children at risk for symptoms of anxiety and depression, suggests a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“I’m not here today about just playing fall sports such as football, soccer, golf, tennis and others. The past week I’ve watched our marching band practice to prepare for the upcoming season. Not allowing these students to be involved will be devastating to many of them who look forward to these chances to interact with their classmates.
“In my role as a school administrator, I’ve seen extracurricular activities change kids’ lives for the better. The potential lack of opportunities will likely change the trajectory of so many children’s lives. As a society, we cannot afford this. Regardless of the decision made in the coming days, students will continue to socialize with each other within their communities.
“We have the opportunity to keep them in a safe, controlled environment where we can continue to implement safety measures and monitor student mobility. I entered the educational field over 20 years ago and I’ve served as a teacher, coach, athletic director, principal and school district administrator. I’ve strongly supported my students and consistently attempted to do right by each one of them. All of our students need us to advocate for them more than any time in our lifetime. Especially, we must do everything in our power to let them play.”