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Opinion: KSHSAA decision was necessary

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Kansas Pregame Spring Edition will continue with postseason basketball coverage

  • Kansas Pregame publisher John Baetz talks about KSHSAA's decision to cancel the remainder of the state basketball tournaments and announces revisions to plans for the Spring Edition.
    Kansas Pregame publisher John Baetz talks about KSHSAA's decision to cancel the remainder of the state basketball tournaments and announces revisions to plans for the Spring Edition.

To say I was passionate about high school football growing up in Smith Center is a bit of an understatement. Football was my identity as a teenager. It permeated most aspects of my life and was seldom far from my mind.

Heading into my junior season of high school football I was beyond excited. I expected to be a full-time starter after seeing varsity action as a sophomore. I was looking forward to following in my older brother’s footsteps as a Redmen lineman.

But in our first Saturday morning scrimmage while blocking a teammate I felt the ball at the end of my right upper arm slide from the shoulder socket and the pain brought me to my knees. Early the next week I would head to the doctor to see what was wrong.

After X-rays and an examination the doctor explained I had a shoulder separation that would likely recur, an injury that still occasionally provides me complications now almost 30 years later.

I can still feel the hot tears burn my cheeks as I heard the doctor tell me surgery may be required. My junior season would likely be lost. 

However, there was an alternative, physical therapy and a month with no contact and then check the stability of the shoulder.

Of course! Yes! That’s absolutely what I chose!

I attacked my physical therapy with a burning desire to return to the field. My junior year of football was saved! After missing three games I played the remainder of the season and went on to play my full senior year with the occasional separation, but never a dislocation.

I’ve thought about that experience frequently since hearing of the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s decision to cancel the state basketball tournaments Thursday night amid fears over the Coronavirus.

The state basketball tournaments were cancelled with the first round complete and 48 teams - four girls teams and four boys teams from each of the six classifications - unable to complete their quest for a state title.

I imagine what I felt in that moment so long ago, hearing my junior season was likely over, parallels the feelings of the athletes who heard their season was over and their quest for a state championship had ended, and most painfully for those seniors who saw their season end without knowing it was their final game.

Unfortunately, those athletes haven’t received the satisfaction of being given an alternative to missing the final two games of their season, and they probably won’t.

Could all of the remaining games have been played Friday? Probably, but all indications are that hesitating in cancelling large gatherings could have added to the overall risk of rapid spread.

I’ve read much of the response on social media, some of it furious, even belligerent, and filled with finger-pointing, mostly at the KSHSAA. 

I can say with confidence that had I played high school sports in the social media era and was one of the athletes who lost the earned opportunity to battle for a state title I would have allowed my disappointment to overcome rational thinking and would have posted public criticism of KSHSAA officials, government leaders and anyone else I thought had taken away that thing which was most important to me.

If I were still in my role as a high school coach and had a similar experience I would’ve found it hard to stifle the anger. Even now, as a parent, if my daughter - who is not yet old enough for high school sports - was part of one of those semifinal teams, I’m certain my initial response would be fueled by her pain and not by clear thinking.

But...cancellation of the state tournaments was the right thing to do at the time.

Why?

It’s about protecting our elderly, who are more susceptible to severe illness or death. It’s also about protecting our country’s healthcare system. It’s not about protecting the athletes, all healthy young people who appear to face limited threat from the virus, but who can carry the virus without even having symptoms.

The virus is tearing through northern Italy, by all accounts overwhelming the Italian healthcare system. More than 1,400 people have died in the country since just late February, including the 67-year old doctor who was the head of the medical association in the region most heavily hit by the virus.

The cancellation of large events is out of an abundance of caution and the experiences of other countries around the world are providing the precedent.

So, where do we go from here? Will spring sports go on?

According to a notice on its website, the KSHSAA has made no alterations to the spring sports season at this time. Local school leaders are empowered to make the best decisions for their respective student-athletes and school communities for regular season athletic practices and competitions.

From our perspective it does appear at the very least there will be a delay to the start of spring sports season. Several Kansas school districts are shutting down for at least the next two weeks and cities like Wichita are banning gatherings of more than 250 people. While the combined attendance of players and fans at baseball and softball games in Kansas often fall under that threshold, many of the track meets in the state will exceed that number when considering both athletes and fans.

And, what does this mean for Kansas Pregame?

I’m happy to announce we plan to continue work on our spring publication with one major addition. We were already working to include postseason coverage of cross country and volleyball, two sports we don’t currently include in our preview publications but do cover online, and now we’d like to add a postseason recap of the state basketball tournaments and publish the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association all-state teams along with team photos of each of the 48 semifinalists from this year’s truncated state tournament.

Our number one goal is to provide high quality keepsake publications athletes and their families can enjoy for years to come. I’m hopeful a look back at the state tournaments can provide a positive memory for all those families still stinging from the loss of competition.

It’s not yet clear how concerns about the virus will impact the distribution of our Spring Edition and it may be a few days before we set a release date.

Check back here and on social media for updates, and in this time of crisis don’t panic, but listen to the recommendations of healthcare professionals and be patient and safe as the virus makes its way across the country.