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Tom's Takes: Going forward with Nebraska high school sports makes sense, for now

Tom's Takes: Going forward with Nebraska high school sports makes sense, for now


Aug. 10. It's a start.

Nebraska high school football, volleyball, girls golf, softball, cross-country and boys tennis teams can begin practice on that day. In a sports world where there are so many moving parts, so much uncertainty because of the pandemic, the Nebraska School Activities Association made big news Monday.

It feels like normal. But we're a long way from normal.

It feels like a corner turned. But this is a marathon, not the 400.

It's a giant step toward having high school sports this fall. But it's the beginning, too, of being more vigilant. More masks, more of the time. More patience. More bumps in the road, interruptions, doing things the right way.

I applaud this decision because of what it is: a decision made with care and diligence. The NSAA did the research and looked at the science and made the best call with the information at hand. That's the best we can hope for from our leaders as we continue to navigate an unfamiliar path.

In the next week or two, more big decisions will be made. It's time. A lot of them won't look alike. On Monday alone, while the NSAA was giving a cautionary green light, the California Interscholastic Federation pushed back its high school sports season to January. So high school football in California won't begin until 2021. January is the rain month in southern California. But at least it's not snow. You can play outdoor sports in January in California.

Nebraska high school football in January? Right.

Meanwhile, the NCAA Division II conference MIAA pushed back its fall sports schedule to begin practice on Aug. 31, with games beginning Sept. 28. The league decided to split its fall season into fall and spring. For the University of Nebraska at Kearney, that means seven football games in October and November and three in the spring. It's a novel idea, a good idea. Nobody knows if UNK will be able to play seven games this fall. But now there's a plan, a road map, drawn in pencil with the required eraser. The pandemic insists.

The MIAA move is an interesting one. I think the big boys, the Power Five, should consider it as well. The idea of playing seven games might be a bit optimistic. Who knows? But I like the plan of getting some games in this fall and doing it again in the spring. That leaves room for recovery and another season in the fall of 2021. With the pandemic's permission, of course.

There will be some pushback on the NSAA's move, of course. In the last couple weeks, the Omaha Public Schools board recommended that fall sports be canceled and called for the NSAA to pull the plug. The problem with that is that the COVID-19 numbers around the state are different. Why sideline kids from western and central Nebraska because Omaha says so?

There was high school football two weeks ago at the annual Shrine Bowl in Kearney. There have been youth baseball, volleyball and basketball games the last two months. There are COVID-19 rules in place, social distancing, masks, etc. Last Friday, my daughter played in a basketball tournament at the UBT sports complex in Elkhorn, several games over 2 1/2 hours. Parents were allowed to watch. Some wore masks, some did not. The bleachers were not in use. The kids played. Life went on, sort of.

What we don't know, and maybe won't ever know, is what the COVID-19 numbers are for those Shrine Bowl players, the youth sports kids, all that, from this summer. Did they spike after playing? Were they OK?

Months later, we're still trying to figure this thing out. But if we know anything, it's that the idea that young people are strong and immune from getting this is a fallacy. My 18-year-old daughter tested positive for COVID-19, as did a number of her high school friends. This virus is non-discriminate.

So why play high school football? Well, because this isn't college football, where even in conference-games-only seasons, teams will cross state boundaries and welcome opponents to campus from states where numbers might be high. It's a bigger animal in college. That's why the colleges need more time.

But Nebraska high school football is a smaller population base, a more controlled environment. Put masks on everyone not wearing a helmet. Limit the folks in the stands. Have a plan for when the inevitable positive test comes up. High school kids aren't roommates in dorms. They can go home for a two-week quarantine.

How often do players and coaches get tested? On a regular basis, for sure.

We'll start to find out on Aug. 10. Who knows, by Aug. 31, this may change. Some games may not get played, some may get delayed. The NSAA's decision happened because Nebraska numbers are in a good enough place. But it happened, too, with the understanding that the numbers have to get better, that it's not the time to let down the guard, but to put on the mask. Everywhere.

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