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Could a proactive approach protect winter sports?

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All around us the coronavirus is exploding. Hospitals in Wichita and Kansas City report ballooning admissions and fewer available beds in intensive care units. A number of schools across the state are making the switch from in-person learning to hybrid, or completely remote, teaching models.

With middle school winter sports underway, and high school sports bearing down, administrators and boards of education grapple with tough decisions.

Many schools have limited fan attendance planned for winter sports. Maize is one of the first to eliminate fan attendance at athletic events for the unforeseeable future. Kansas City Kansas Public Schools continue to attend school remotely with winter activities in jeopardy following the elimination of extracurriculars in the fall (but voted, as I penned this editorial, to allow student-athletes to begin practice January 4th). Even many of the state's smallest districts have limited attendance to immediate family.

Reports this week of an effective vaccine has much of the world feeling optimistic for the first time in months, but what should be done until the vaccine can be distributed to the masses?

Perhaps it's time for a proactive approach.

This won't be a popular suggestion, but hear me out, the discussion has to start somewhere: Perhaps to stop the spread of the virus and provide students and athletes the opportunity to participate for the largest part of the remainder of the school year we should eliminate in-person learning and activities statewide from after Thanksgiving until the end of Christmas break in early January?

Now, I'm no medical expert, but the numbers are undeniable. Hundreds of additional cases are being reported across the state and some of Kansas' largest hospitals may be forced to limit transfers from rural health care facilities in the very near future.

Athletics are just one small piece of the big picture, but I played, coached, and now cover high school sports; I understand how important they are to families and communities and I don't want to see what happened in March happen again this winter sports season.

Could the heart-wrenching scenes from last year's state basketball tournament be avoided this season if we hold off the start of winter sports until January?

Perhaps the vaccine will be rolled out to the elderly and at-risk in our country by then. Maybe the elimination of in-person learning will help to stem the current explosion of COVID cases and hospitalizations. Maybe just a few weeks of sacrifice will give us the time needed to return to near normal.

I hear from coaches and parents every day who ask if I think we'll have a season. My answer, this week, is if hospitals continue to fill up, we probably won't. Our health care providers will be overwhelmed, the result will likely be an extended shutdown similar to the spring. 

Maybe a temporary school shutdown can turn the tide in our favor.

Is this the right answer? 

I don't know, but it's important to talk about it. We have to protect our teachers, our healthcare providers and our elderly, and we need to respond to their pleas.

Don't misunderstand, we CAN NOT afford to shut down our economy again. Masking, social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing can be utilized as needed so businesses can continue to operate, or the future is bleak. 

BUT, perhaps a brief break from in-person education, for now, will protect the rest of the school year and our healthcare system.

Regardless of the next move, it's imperative that we be kind to each other. We can have this conversation calmly and respectfully. NO ONE is making decisions about school and sports with the goal to rob your children of a state championship or college athletic scholarship, or even from enjoying the view from the bench.

These considerations, these discussions, are held with the idea of protecting the largest number of the most heavily impacted in our state and our country, and putting us in position to finish the school year, and participate in activities, in-person.

Just like any championship team, together, with a little bit of sacrifice, we can do this!

John Baetz is the publisher of Kansas Pregame and the former publisher of the Lincoln Sentinel-Republican and Chapman & Enterprise News-Times. A former high school football coach, he served as defensive coordinator for three different high schools over a 10 year high school coaching career.