By Tris Wykes

It took a minute for what I was watching to register. An Upper Valley high school football team packed together in a small slice of parking lot, almost none of its players wearing masks, minutes after a game’s conclusion. 

The guys were loving life and I remember that feeling so well. The pressure’s off, victory’s been achieved and everyone’s your friend. Playful insults are tossed about, big tackles re-enacted. It’s a reason why you play sports.

This team, however, had just engaged in a game reduced to 7-on-7 because of Vermont’s Covid-19 rules. In their excitement and revelry, its players somehow didn’t realize the altered form was created to prevent the type of risk they were now taking.

 

I’ve seen bits and pieces of that kind of behavior during the last month. Pretty good for teams of teenagers and overloaded coaches, but perhaps not enough to get us through the rest of the fall sports calendar and into a winter schedule

It’s not hard to imagine close-contact sports such as basketball and hockey being nixed. Wrestling’s cancelation seems a foregone conclusion. 

New England has been one of the parts of the U.S. least-affected by the virus. However, the Concord (N.H.) Monitor newspaper reported on Oct. 9 that the average number of cases in the Granite State had risen by more than 10 per day in the past week. That’s the fastest uptick since the pandemic’s first weeks.

I’ve seen a few coaches who clearly don’t think much of the threat. Most appear concerned, doing their best to keep assistants and players masked and socially distanced. Trying to get teenagers to multitask and stand apart, however, is like the proverbial chore of herding cats.

“Spread out! You’re shedding all over each other!” Hanover High boys soccer coach Rob Grabill bellowed to his players before a game at Hartford last week. Hurricanes coaches are also on the ball, led by athletic director Jeff Moreno’s no-nonsense attitude towards prevention. 

But even Grabill’s competitors stand in unmasked groups during halftime and Moreno can’t do much when his teams go on the road and face opponents who wear their required masks as chinstraps. Word in the local sports community is that recent Covid positives in Hartford, Lebanon and Hanover are tied to club hockey families traveling outside the area.

That’s why in part it comes down to YOU, the athletes. To the young people whose late childhoods have been unfairly altered. The whole situation stinks and we get it. However, we also need you to know that a significant part of the responsibility for defeating Covid lies on your shoulders. 

If the hockey rink attendant isn’t wearing a mask, that doesn’t mean you should not. If opposing players don’t comply, ask your coach to raise objections. And those of you in leadership roles on every team, bus and field need to wear your masks and spread out. Use tact and finesse to get others to follow you.

It’s a lot to ask. Especially when the old guy taking photographs on the sidelines keeps dropping his mask so his glasses can de-fog. I’ll get better, though. I promise. Just assure me you’ll do the same.

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