Steve Cornelius

High school sports is in a very precarious state right now.

Whether we should play sports or not amidst the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, has been widely debated over the past five months. But now the quandary has gotten even more convoluted.

Five months ago, when the spread of the coronavirus was starting to make its way into the United States, the decisions to shut down sporting events and entire sporting seasons were widespread and concerted. Although it came in waves, back in March, almost every sport eventually gave way to the virus and shut down their competitions.

In Kentucky, summer low-touch sports — such as baseball and softball — picked back up in late June. With three local youth baseball leagues and countless other local athletes participating on travel teams during the last month, everything in the sports world seemed to get back  to 'somewhat' of a normal state.

Now as summer is beginning to give way to autumn, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association has started plans to begin their fall sports seasons in September. However, fall sports includes high-touch sports like soccer, volleyball and football.

The current pandemic has affected almost everyone in the non-athletic world, but the way in which most of us have been able to still stay productive and healthy has been much more easily achieved than in athletics. 

Millions of Americans have still been productive on their jobs by working from home. Businesses have altered their procedures to keep both their workers and customers safe from the virus. Even schools are now looking at letting their students learn from the safety of their home. 

But high-touch sports can't be played out with the participating athletes sitting on their living room couch. High-touch sports like football, volleyball and soccer have to be played face-to-face with relatively high numbers of athletes.

And thus the quandary — should we start playing high-touch sports or not?

At the forefront of the high-touch sport debate is football. This highly-popular sport pits a total of 22 players on the playing field at one time and nearly 100 more players standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the sidelines — not to be mention the large crowds this sport produces each Friday night.

Staying clear of politics, there seems to be a huge gap between the "Let's play Football" supporters and the "Let's Not play Football" groups. Being a sports writer, I guess I should be a card-carrying member of the "Let's play Football" consortium. But now as the start of the season approaches, I find myself straddling the fence.

Yes, I would love nothing more than to be standing on the sidelines of a local football contest, with thousands of screaming fans behind me cheering on their favorite team and student athletes. But I don't want to put myself, the players, the coaches, the officials, the fans, and all our friends and family members at risk.

While many Americans have now all of a sudden became health and infectious disease experts, I myself am not. Besides the one high school biology class I took nearly 40 years ago, I personally can only make assumptions about the coronavirus.

I could go on Facebook and read a plethora of posts on how to cure COVID-19, why masks do and don't work to stop the spread of the virus, and — my favorite — "the virus will go away after the upcoming presidential election."

And in the sporting community, some have stated that there has been no evidence to show that the virus has been spread in head-to-head athletic competitions. Likewise, there has been no evidence to the contrary.

And among the high sporting communities, there is also the belief that student-athletes are more safe inside the school system's athletic environment than with outside sources. And they also stated, we would be naive to think that student-athletes would not find somewhere else to compete even if the KHSAA or their respective school shut down their sport — whether it be in another state, another school or another league.

All I know for sure is the coronavirus is for real and it is contagious. How it pertains to sports and the dangers of it spreading in head-to-head athletic competitions or amongst the fans in the stands, I have no first-hand scientific data or medical training to answer those questions.

Like everyone else, I have my own gut feelings and theories. But none of that matters.

What does matter, in reference to the starting of high school fall sports, is the decisions made by the athletic governing bodies and the school systems over the next few weeks. They won't be easy decisions. And whatever decisions these entities make, they will probably be hailed 'unpopular' by a large portion of their constituents.

But they have to make these extremely tough decisions, and they have to make them for the right reasons. It can't be about money or pressure from outside sources.

It has to be about the thousands of student-athletes they serve.

STEVE CORNELIUS is the CJ Sports Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @CJSportseditor.

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