UHSAA upholds decision to cancel spring sports season, despite pleas for it to resume

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune The Utah High School Activities Association on Tuesday upheld its April decision to cancel this springs sports season, including softball, baseball, boys soccer and boys and girls track and field, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Utah High School Activities Association’s board of trustees Tuesday upheld its decision to cancel spring sports and state championship tournaments amid calls to bring spring sports back in some capacity.

The association announced on April 14 that the spring season was over after Gov. Gary Herbert said K-12 schools across the state would keep their soft closures through the end of the school year. Athletes and coaches from across the state voiced their displeasure about the cancellation.

Soon, two separate petitions were created. Athletes started a #LetUsPlay social media campaign that came with a video.

But there were just too many variables that made restarting the spring schedule unfeasible. One of the major factors is that Utah is currently on risk level “orange,” which does not allow people to “engage in close-contact or team sports,” per the phased guidelines.

And with just a few weeks left until the end of the school year, there wasn’t a path to bring sports back.

“We just don’t have enough time,” said Dale Whitlock, who represents the Juab School District for the board. “That’s something that we can’t get around.”

Critics of the UHSAA’s decision argue that some sports more easily lend themselves to social distancing and crowd gathering guidelines — like golf, tennis and even track and field. But that’s not how the association views it.

“We consider all of our sports and activities team-oriented and educational-based, and that there are team championships that can be earned as a result of team effort and not just individual effort,” UHSAA Executive Director Rob Cuff said.

The UHSAA recently had a pair of meetings with Herbert’s office regarding when high school sports could potentially resume. There’s been some concern that the fall season could be affected if the pandemic goes on long enough.

Cuff said as counties look to move from level “orange” to “yellow,” where schools would open sports would be allowed to proceed with certain cautionary measures in place, some areas might get there sooner than others. Because of that, the current recommendation is “the board of trustees will consider sanctioning statewide competition once all 29 counties move to the ‘yellow’ status.”

The association will discuss fall start dates on May 21, Cuff said. It’s possible those dates get pushed back depending on where the individual counties are regarding their risk levels.

“We will know better in a couple of weeks where we’re headed with the ‘yellow status,” Cuff said.

Dr. Karl Weenig, chair of the UHSAA sports medicine advisory committee, said the the logistics of appropriately socially distancing athletes in certain situations, how to test athletes and other concerns added to the timing issue. In a document that was prepared in advance of a meeting with Herbert, Weening detailed the risk of having sports continue before it’s considered safe to do so.

“Sporting events not only place individuals in direct close contact with one another, they physical behaviors and actions of athletes may also increase transmission (e.g. expectorated saliva, coughing, rapid deep breathing from exertion, etc.) through aerosolization of the virus, which increases the likelihood of spread not only to a single contact, but to many within proximity of the infected athlete,” the document, which was in displayed during the meeting, states. “A sport competition gathering has the potential to create a much higher number of individuals that can be infect from a single activity.”

Weenig also addressed the idea that high school athletes, because they’re younger, are less at risk of COVID-19’s effects and therefore should be allowed to play. He said the concern is the players being vectors of the disease and infecting others who may be susceptible.

The board also had a discussion regarding whether it wanted to move up the start its official summer period, which starts Memorial Day, to May 9. That could give athletes more time with their club and AAU teams over the summer if those leagues are allowed to start, board members said.

Transitioning to summer would mean any activities, including sports, that students decided to do over summer would not be under the UHSAA’s jurisdiction. That specific discussion will continue Thursday during a meeting of the association’s executive committee.

Still, there was at least some sentiment that the UHSAA should give athletes something to look forward to, particularly because the current plan is for summer sports to resume and school to return in the fall.

“Kids are falling apart,” said Marilyn Richards, who represents the 6A school boards. “So saying, ‘Oh it’s just a wait-and-see game,’ that’s really hurting children. … We have to give them some hope. … These kids, they need something to hang on to.”