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With/Out the Ball: The Forced Adjustment of H.S. Athletics – Part 3 of 3

Photo caption: Morgan Park High School’s mustang mascot statue

This is part three of a three-part series examining how high schools and student-athletes adapted to the shutdown of their sports programs and the adjustment of a new normal in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lessons learned by the administration and coaches.

 By Bobby Cameron

No one could have fully anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on high school sports. The experience has led to improvements in preparedness and contingency planning in the event of another pandemic and temporary sports shutdown.

Chicago Public Schools’ athletic department feels it’s ready—should another health crisis come into play.

Key takeaways are having effective communication to keep athletes, coaches and families informed about changes to programs and safety protocols; collaborating with their communities, health officials and other stakeholders to develop and implement effective safety protocols – increased cleaning and disinfecting of equipment, mandatory mask wearing and physical distancing – to prevent the spread of viruses; providing mental health resources and support to their programs; and the role of technology for virtual workouts and online training sessions to help athletes stay active and engaged when they’re unable to meet in person.

Technology is the biggest factor for Chris Gardner. It lays the foundation for academic success—should remote learning come back into play.

“We must get ahead of the student’s home life. Having a laptop or Chromebook is one thing, because every kid usually gets one from school. But it’s the access that’s the roadblock to utilizing the device,” said Morgan Park’s head boys’ basketball coach.

In addition to giving all students a laptop, Gardner said they also need to receive mobile hotspots or free Wi-Fi to get internet access.

“There should be a program that offers free internet access to students’ homes. And just like some utility companies have a moratorium on shutoffs during the wintertime, the internet access should remain available during the school year without fear of disconnection. If we expect for our students to engage in remote learning, we have to remove the barriers to access,” he said.

Cynthia Ervin said the pandemic made students and their parents more computer-friendly during the virtual learning period and things appear to be back to normal.

“I think we’re better prepared should this happen again. We’re taking the necessary precautions, because the gyms are full and the camaraderie among the students is back to where it was pre-pandemic,” said the athletic program administrator for CPS.

While things are back to normal, Ervin and Gardner agree that there’s one lingering issue that will continuously need to be discussed and worked on: equity.

The pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities in sports programs, with some athletes having access to better resources and opportunities than others. High school sports programs will need to focus on promoting equity in their programs, such as by providing more support for under-resourced athletes or offering opportunities for athletes from under-represented communities.



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