Mike Kays

Mike Kays

Dear OSSAA, Oklahoma superintendents and athletic directors:

Good morning. Been quite a year, eh?

Near the top of our Facebook page here of this sports department is a short video that reminds us of this daily: Fort Gibson’s girls basketball team, warming up before their win over Locust Grove that lifted them to their 16th straight state tournament. But they never got there.

Every time I look at that video I am reminded of the movie “Red Dawn,” the day after a high school football game, Russian troops landed outside the school and the world as the kids and community knew stopped. 

This wasn’t a Soviet army that invaded, but an enemy nonetheless. 

It’s been tough.

We’ve given up things, sometimes begrudgingly, and sometimes immaturely. Wearing a mask when asked while making a shopping round, while it does feel stifling, is a small sacrifice for us and a simple request by those who work there. 

There are no convenient solutions to this, no easy solutions.

It’s a war against an invisible enemy. We should protect the most vulnerable. We should also prioritize responsibility.

When I hear war, I ask myself, who do we think are the soldiers in this? The CDC? Medical professionals?

We all are. We all have a role.

When the traditional type of war is upon us, we hunker down, but we remain calm, and we live life within our limits. We also should meet the challenges of the day.

For many, that means at work. Medical professionals, law enforcement, small business owners, journalists and teachers, among others.

I once heard a doctor tell a civic gathering I was a part of that if your kids aren’t seeking this profession with a passion for sick people, and only for the lifestyle of a good income, find another place. This is that time where many medical professionals are laying it on the line and that passion is put to the test. Thank God for them.

Each of these professions, and others, in there own way, are living out their calling in risky times. Reframe the shingles and instead of a doctor, it could have been a teacher saying to a crowd, if you don’t have a passion for kids and only want to get this job to be at home in the summer with your own kids, don’t. If it’s not a calling, you’ll lose energy and won’t have it time you do have the time with your kids.

The comfort in difficult times is that we find a way to live out our callings.

As a journalist, I have had pause, looking at the reality of going into crowded places, looking toward postgame at football contests, and realizing it could be risky.  Heck, I survived a night at our local youth baseball park where hundreds were there, not social distancing and no one wearing a mask. I made it.

I’m ready to face that risk with a highly-populated school football game. So are the coaches and kids who got started with fall practice today.

You’ve heard some of them here this summer. They don’t want to lose this season. Invariably, that would have been the subject of some visits to schools today, so I let it be, letting them enjoy the moment, the first day of practice, as something almost normal.

I wanted to focus on you.

With college sports on the verge of a complete fall shutdown, there’s growing speculation you will follow suit.

On behalf of our kids, don’t.

Exhaust every creative way to do it in a way that keeps them connected to normalcy.

Make them wear masks, eliminate postgame handshakes, clean, clean, clean, and make way for a tough regimen of checks.

Football is risky, but every year, it’s risky for life-altering head and neck injuries, concussions and broken limbs.  The statistics already show there’s a better chance for these to happen than a severe encounter with this virus, yet we’ve never hesitated to blow a whistle for kickoff before.

Extracurricular activities strike at the energy and motivation that keeps learning happening.  I won’t argue that distance learning can’t be part of a safe approach to education. Anyone who has ever taken a college course as one of 300 students knows there’s no personal interaction in that kind of learning, yet we get through that class and move on to the next. But we’re talking college students and not first graders. Some kind of mix of the two is creative.

Committed teachers have passion for kids, Committed coaches have passion for coaching. 

We’ve tested this through a summer of ball teams still attending tournaments with dozens of teams and hundreds of spectators, and in as many as I’ve been able to talk to, reports to me were about only 2-3 that got sick, but with minor issues. 

Oktaha softball and baseball have to shut down for 14 days due to one kid on each team testing positive. So far, I’ve been told, neither kid is having major issues. 

Kids have recovery ability. They also have a raw passion for life.

Let’s look long and hard before taking that away. Sacrifices will have to come, some games may be canceled. There will be quarantines and disruptions. Heck, parents may have to step back and not attend their kids’ games, a huge sacrifice in and of itself, but when the alternative is their kids not having a Senior Night, is it a sacrifice worth making?

Let’s not kid ourselves. This savior in a form of a vaccine may not be here by spring, so all this talk about cramming a year’s worth of sports into a half year has more complications than what we currently face and probably what you have begun to think of.

Push activities back to the spring and you’re risking canceling what will then be 1 1/2  years of real class, almost half of a high schooler’s life.

Almost half.

Let’s be careful, let’s be smart, but let’s figure out a way to push through.

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