Let the kids play?

Petition launched by Proctor parent and coach against delaying fall sports season


PROCTOR — A petition protesting the Vermont Principal’s Association’s (VPA) plan to postpone the beginning of fall high school sports has garnered more than 1,900 signatures in two weeks. It all started in Proctor, where soccer is not just a fall sport. It’s way more important than that.

Proctor High School parent and coach Ron Wood started the petition to build support against the VPA’s July 2 decision to postpone fall sports until school opens. Preseason practices were originally scheduled to begin on Aug. 10, but the VPA issued a statement saying that, based on recommendations from the state Activities Standards Committee and its COVID-19 task force, the proposed fall season would begin on the first student day for a given school, meaning the end of August or early September.

The VPA is now awaiting word from Gov. Phil Scott regarding the re-opening of school and the fall sports season.

“We did decide to push the first day of practice ahead to the start of school,” Johnson said. “We really didn’t have a choice because the Governor’s guidelines indicated that we couldn’t start sports until schools are back in session. We’re waiting to hear from the task force and they will come out with special guidelines.”

The VPA had to cancel the remainder of the girls basketball playoffs in March, and then the entire spring sports season per the Governor’s guidelines.

In his description of the cause, Wood outlined the goal of the petition on the www.change.org petition page.

“The Vermont Principals Association (VPA) is going to delay fall high school sports until the middle of September if we allow it,” Wood wrote. “Many people believe that after the middle of September, the VPA will just cancel the season all together. We are not professional sports teams who travel all over the country playing games. We are not college sports teams who have players on their teams from all over the country and the world for that matter. We are local Vermont high school sports teams who play games within our state. The VPA is out of touch and has ruled Vermont high school sports with an iron fist for far too long.  It is time we take a stand and push back against the VPA and demand that high school fall sports begin on August 10th as scheduled.  These kids have been through and lost enough already, let them play! Please do your part and sign the petition and share it on social media with as many friends as you can.” 

Wood said VPA Executive Director Bob Johnson’s assertion during a local television station interview that the VPA would postpone the season until mid-September told him that the whole season could be in jeopardy.

“I could see the writing on the wall,” Wood said in an interview Tuesday, “that they didn’t want to have a season. They are thinking that cases of COVID-19 are going to go down. It doesn’t make sense. (Johnson) said that if even one kid gets COVID, it won’t be worth it. I say the kids are already suffering because of this.”

But Johnson said Wood’s thinking that the VPA is planning to cancel the season is not accurate.

“That is his opinion,” he said. “I’m not sure that many people share that opinion. As far college sports, that’s not an opinion we share. I think we will see more colleges cancelling their fall seasons. The issue is spreadibility. Vermont has done an incredible job, but all it takes is one person.”

Johnson said he expects new guidelines regarding the fall sports season to be announced within the week.

“Do I believe we’ll have a fall season? Yes,” Johnson said. “I’m not sure what it will look like. The recommendations coming out will define that for us.”

But Wood said that the emotional toll exacted on the students by living through the pandemic without in-person access to friends and teachers is more damaging that the threat of COVID-19.

“I know how important this is,” he said. “The kids are absolutely suffering over this. With the school buildings closed and the lack of social interaction, they’re hurting.”

He cited a study out of the University of Wisconsin by Dr. Tim McGuine that polled 3,000 students. Of those, the study found that 68% reported at least mild depression over not being able to participate in school sports during the pandemic. And 65% reported feeling some anxiety, and 25% of those students reported moderate to severe anxiety.

Wood is the father of Proctor High School senior and sports standout Sydney Wood, a three-sport athlete at the school who is hoping for a fall soccer season. Her father said the painful experience of not being able to play the Div. IV girls basketball championship game in March is still fresh in the minds of many Proctor residents. The girls varsity basketball team won a trip to the Div. IV final game at the Barre Auditorium, only to have the championship game cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I still have a bad taste in my mouth,” Wood said. “There was absolutely no mitigation at the Wednesday night semifinal, but we couldn’t play the finals on Friday even with mitigation, but the kids continued to go to school. It was just an awful, awful thing.”

Johnson said he understands, but that he believes the virus is a much greater threat.

“Part of me gets it too, but if you go back (to the championship game week), that’s when the virus was first hitting and everything changed immediately,” he said. “There was no choice. I understand that people in Proctor were very disappointed, but our biggest concern was the safety of the kids.”

Wood has coached soccer, baseball, softball and basketball in Proctor. He is currently the

assistant Proctor softball coach. He said that he understands why school buildings were shuttered in March due to the pandemic, and why social distancing measures were put in place.

“I understand we had to do this, and we did it,” he said. “Vermont did a great job, but I don’t think it was ever supposed to stay shut down. The intention was to flatten the curve. To continue on with these kids like this is just brutal.”

Johnson again said he, too, understands, but that there is nor precedent for how to proceed in a pandemic.

“This is a totally unprecedented pandemic and we don’t know where we are because there is no precedent for this,” Johnson said. “A lot of these decisions have been made based on what medical professionals are saying. It’s based on science and what the doctors are saying regarding what we can and can’t do.”

Wood maintains that there would be more positives than negatives if the VPA just let the kids play.

“It’s not just because of my daughter, it’s all the kids I know. It’s absolutely breaking my heart and it’s not good,” he said.

Johnson, however, said the threat of even one student contracting COVID-19 is not worth pushing a fall sports season if the Governor decides otherwise.

“The bottom line is that this is a disease that is spread by contact,” he said. “And, there is no guarantee we won’t have another spike. Even if the VPA wanted to, we couldn’t proceed without the governor’s guidelines We still plan on having fall sports and until we see the guidelines, that’s where our work will be done.”

To view Ron Wood’s petition, go to www.change.org and search “VPA.”

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