Local high schools reconsider the status of sports after latest COVID-19 study.

The WIAA Board of Control and other advisory committees decide the outcome for Wisconsin high schools’ sport seasons. Photo courtesy of Jill Carlson, licensed under creative commons.

Author: Jake Schneider

While local high schools have faced the difficult challenge of providing quality education to its students remotely, they also have been forced to make a tough decision regarding the continuation of high school athletics. 

Many student-athletes who saw their seasons come to an abrupt end in March were hopeful that their seasons would resume once school started back up again in the fall. However, this has not been the case, as the Madison Metropolitan School District announced their decision to remain virtual for the second quarter of the 2020 school year. Consequently, all high school sports are currently on hold.

However, a recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that surprisingly, there may not be any correlation between high school sports and an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. If this is true, it could be great news for student-athletes who have been anxious to return to playing the sports they love. 

In the study, the university cooperated with the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association (WIAA) to gather data representing the presence of COVID-19 among high school athletes. They sent a survey to 207 different schools who decided to resume high school sports this fall. Out of the 30,000 student-athletes represented by the survey, 271 positive COVID-19 cases were reported. Out of the 209 positive cases with a known source of transmission, only 1 individual attributed contracting the virus to sports contact. Given this low number, ridding high schools of sports going forward will be a topic of contention. 

Local athletic directors are not convinced that this study will suddenly change the status of high school sports in the Madison area. Jeremy Schiltz, the athletic director at both the Madison Metropolitan School District and James Madison Memorial High School, is not optimistic about high school sports returning any time soon.

Although the study reported that high school sports were responsible for less than 0.5% of COVID-19 transmission in the high schools surveyed, Schlitz pointed out that 30% of the COVID cases reported by student-athletes did not have a known source of transmission. Due to such a high percentage of cases having an unknown source, Schlitz believes that the earliest high school sports could resume would be in late January, as reported by Channel 3000. With such a high number of cases coming from an unknown source, it is too risky to continue high school sports, which potentially could spread the virus to students’ families and communities. 

Unfortunately, for many high school students wishing to return to competition and physical activity, their seasons will remain on hold. Many student-athletes look forward to participating in their sport and use it to relieve the stresses of their daily life.

This proves to be true, as UW-Madison surveyed 5,000 student-athletes and discovered that physical activity levels had dropped by 50%. During COVID-19, student-athletes reports of experiencing moderate to severe signs of depression tripled from 10% to now 33%. In the meantime, student-athletes should consider finding an alternative form of exercise to help relieve the stress that arises with a global pandemic and online school.

Along with finding alternative coping mechanisms, it’s also critical for students and the community to follow the CDC’s guidelines for slowing the spread of COVID-19. Hopefully, by continuing to social distance and wear masks, the Madison community can continue to limit the spread of COVID-19 in order for high school sports to safely start again.