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Canceling Sports and Extracurriculars this Fall Would be Heartbreaking

Okay, I’m good, I’ve got it – Mask up. Social distance. Stay at home whenever possible. The protocol for staying physically healthy. Check. Following. Duly noted.

What, however, is the protocol for staying mentally healthy?

With reports of COVID-19 on the rise again across the country, states debating a return to the earlier phases of shutdown, and parents and education administrations struggling with the reopening of schools, the physical well-being of the country is a top priority. But is anyone concerned with our mental well-being?

In my state, schools, churches, libraries and theaters were all closed during the initial outbreak. Sports were canceled. But liquor and marijuana (it’s legal in my state) stores were open. Interesting message, especially for our high school and college kids.

As we look ahead to fall, with case counts still rising, we seem to be on the verge of closing things down again.

We are a sports-centered family. We play them, watch them, and enjoy them. My husband and sons have conversations about players, stats, teams, and conferences that make my head spin. But it brings them joy.

We miss sports. Terribly.

One of my favorite artists, Kenny Chesney, has a song called “The Boys of Fall” that always makes me smile. Whenever I hear it, I’m back in the stands watching my sons play football.

“When I feel that chill, smell that fresh cut grass

I’m back in my helmet, cleats, and shoulder pads

Standing in the huddle, listening to the call

Fans going crazy for the boys of fall.”

I wonder, will there be boys and girls of fall? Marching bands of fall? Theater kids of fall?

Yes, we must keep our kids safe. Absolutely. Their health is the priority, as is the health of their parents, neighbors, and community. But if our kids are healthy physically and not healthy mentally—is that acceptable?

Yes, this virus is dangerous, and it can be deadly. But depression and other mental health problems are dangerous, too—even deadly sometimes.

“They didn’t let just anybody in that club

Took every ounce of heart and sweat and blood

To get to wear those game-day jerseys down the hall.”

The physical exercise that comes with playing a high school sport is a healthy way for our teenagers to deal with stress and anxiety while keeping them healthy physically. Exercising at home is an option of course, but it’s not the same for kids who are used to that social and competitive outlet. Working out with teammates toward a common goal—winning the next game—is hard to replace.

“Well it’s turn to face the stars and stripes

It’s fighting back them butterflies.”

It’s also hard to replace the adrenaline and the excitement of team competition.

It takes courage to walk out on that field (or court or stage) and perform in front of loved ones as well as strangers.

“It’s I got your number, I got your back

When your back’s against the wall

You mess with one man, you got us all.”

Knowing you are not alone. Knowing you are part of something bigger than yourself. Knowing you have an obligation to others. Kind of funny, isn’t it, that what sports have been teaching us forever is what we are asking of one another right now: to fight this virus as a team.

“In little towns like mine, that’s all they’ve got

Newspaper clippings fill the coffee shops.”

When Kenny Chesney sang this song at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin he introduced it by saying: “There are certain things that have grounded me over the years, music being one of them. I grew up in an area where we leaned on certain things as a community. We leaned on family, we leaned on school, church, and sports and that is all we had.”

When we take away school, church, and sports, what happens to kids who don’t have a family to lean on, who need school and sports to provide them with security, structure, a sense of belonging—who’s watching out for these kids?

So much will be missed if school and school sports are canceled this fall. How will our teens, who spent their high school afternoons participating in sports, band, student council, or theater fill all the extra time?

I do not have the answers—I know it’s not easy.

But as we move forward with health on the top of our priority list, I hope we can find a way to keep mental health on there, too.

Mindy Gallagher is the Social Media Manager for Your Teen Magazine. She is the assistant coach for the girls’ lacrosse team for Solon High School in Ohio.

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