On Sept. 17, the State College Area School District Board of Directors voted to allow sports to take place this fall, despite coronavirus concerns. State College Area High School hosted its first home football game last Friday at Memorial Field.
The State College Little Lions defeated Cumberland Valley 31-0 last Friday, but just having the game was an achievement. COVID-19 safety concerns postponed the start of the season until October 2.
Harris Township resident Greg Edwards was worried his son, Jackson, wouldn’t have his senior season. Edwards spoke up at September’s school board meeting about the importance of sports and letting his son play.
“We all know this is much more than just touchdowns and interceptions and fumble recoveries," Edwards said. "These student-athletes learn so many life skills from playing competitive team sports.”
Edwards said his son organized informal workouts with some of his football teammates over the summer. Students wore masks during the workouts, which Edwards said was just one example of the steps football players were willing to take to play.
“They took it upon themselves to show senior leadership and include as many other teammates as possible,” Edwards said.
Through team sports, Edwards said students learn about conflict resolution, individual sacrifice and leadership. Without a football season, Edwards said these skills could’ve been lost in the shuffle.
“It’s a group of which these students belong to and they build strong relationships that last a lifetime,” Edwards said.
State College Area High School's head football coach Matt Lintal doubles as a school counselor. Lintal agreed with Edwards about the benefits of sports and said they provide more than just opportunities to compete.
“For some, it is the physical benefits," Lintal said. "For others, it is a mental health benefit as they’re connected to teammates via the social aspect that sports offer.”
Despite concerns about the spread of COVID-19, Lintal said the benefits of sports are irreplaceable. Speaking at the same board meeting as Edwards, Lintal said students’ physical health isn’t the only benefit from playing sports.
“My biggest concern as a school counselor would be the mental health of our kids should the cancellation of sports become the reality," Lintal said.
Chris Weakland is the athletic director at State College Area High School. He said the school followed the advice of medical experts to put together a plan to bring sports back.
As part of the plan, athletes must always wear masks at practice, except when they’re involved in physical activity. Athletes and coaches get their temperature checked daily, and transportation for away games has been limited to 12 people per bus.
“I felt we had a strong plan in place and fortunately we got a lot of support from our community and we got support from our board to put that plan in motion," Weakland said.
Through nearly a month, Weakland said he has been impressed by how well the school’s athletes have followed these guidelines.
“Our kids are just really knocking it out of the park there," Weakland said. "So, they understand what’s on the table and what’s on the line, so they’re being extra careful.”
If State College Area High School ever moves back to remote learning, sports will automatically stop. Weakland said this uncertainty has made it tough to plan for playing sports for the rest of the school year.
For the 59% of State College Area High School’s student body involved in athletics, Weakland said the school is constantly changing how it keeps its student-athletes safe.
“As we learn more about COVID and we learn more about how to conduct ourselves, things will completely shift as well.”
State College Area High School’s next football game is scheduled for this Friday at Carlisle High School.