The Utah High School Activities Association may have pulled the plug on the spring sports season earlier this month, but that is not stopping schools from searching for ways to find games for their athletes.
Three separate competitions were put together in recent weeks to give athletes an opportunity to salvage some of what they lost, especially the seniors hit hardest by the season’s cancellation. All of them would end sometime in June.
However, the Jordan School District’s board of education on Tuesday evening voted down the Jordan Cup, a proposed event that would have incorporated the majority of spring sports at the district’s seven high schools. Each school would play host to a particular sport on its campus, making it the most comprehensive initiative of the three ideas.
School board president Bryce Dunford recently told The Salt Lake Tribune that the board started exploring ideas for spring sports returning to the district after Gov. Gary Herbert announced schools across the state would go virtual for the remainder of the academic year. He also said the board wanted to see if the UHSAA would put forth its own initiative, but still wanted to have a plan in case it didn’t.
Once the association canceled the season, that gave the board the green light.
“When they [UHSAA] chose not to do anything official for spring sports, that’s when we decided we’re going to do something,” Dunford said. “These athletes deserve a chance to play. And if the association is not going to officially organize something, for whatever reason they choose, we still think there’s an opportunity during the summer.”
Under the Jordan Cup proposal, practices could have started this week and gone until June 6. Competition would have been held June 8-20. There would have been no fee for the competition, which would have been for varsity athletes only.
Jordan District Superintendent Anthony Godfrey said during Tuesday’s school board meeting that the Salt Lake County health department gave the go-ahead for the district to conduct the Jordan Cup. But three doctors pointedly expressed their concerns about the situation.
Dr. Travis Maak, head orthopedic team physician for the Utah Jazz and professor surgeon for the University of Utah, said he he was worried about testing the athletes, as well as them ramping up too quickly to play competitive sports, leaving them more prone to injury. Maak’s biggest concerned stemmed from multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which has recently gotten attention because it’s afflicted small children already diagnosed with COVID-19. Maak said there’s been recent data that points to teenagers being diagnosed with MIS-C and becoming very ill.
“If you have an individual who is asymptomatic positive for COVID that undergoes high level exercise without knowing that he or she has it, it may produce severe consequences — to the point of having them have strokes, have respiratory and cardiovascular compromise, and death,” Maak said, adding that there is limited understand of MIS-C at the moment.
Dr. Michael Henrie, sports medicine physician at the University of Utah, said without testing and quarantine protocols, athletes’ safety can’t be guaranteed.
“It’s hard,” Henrie said. “But I think it’s a time where we all have to just take a step back and slow down in this regard with this chapter of our lives in order to create a safe situation.”
Dunford told The Tribune that athlete safety was paramount for the board and if the Jordan Cup couldn’t go forward safely, he would gladly scrap it.
“Honestly, I can live with spring sport athletes not playing their sport,” Dunford said. “But I have a hard time living with a death that we cause.”
Matthew Young, the board’s sole yes vote, said he felt “a bit sandbagged” by the doctors’ comments because it was “the first time that we as a board are hearing this.” He said he thought the leading authorities on medical matters were the county and state health departments, and they seemed to support the Jordan Cup moving forward.
“I don’t know how to process this information," Young said. "... The actual authority, who we’ve all looked to, who we’ve passed every guidance as far as any other direction — as far as schools being closed, driver’s ed — we’ve always passed to the board of health. And now all of a sudden there’s a new authority out there. I guess I’m spinning on this thing, and would hate to see this opportunity go because one group of people has a strong opinion, and we haven’t given anybody else a chance to provide us any other information.”
Meanwhile, some high schools will compete in a baseball tournament that starts Thursday with pool play and concludes next week. Schools from 6A and 5A classifications will play in what’s being dubbed the Utah Prep Rag Last Chance Tournament Varsity Baseball 2020 Championships. Utah Prep Rag, an online publication for high school sports, is sponsoring the tournament.
The baseball tournament, which came together as a response to the UHSAA’s decision to cancel the spring sports season, comprises 10 schools from 5A and eight from 6A. No other classifications were included due to the limited number of fields available throughout the state, but another tournament that includes more schools could be on its way.
Safety measures for the tournament include social distancing, no shared water jugs, bottles or cups, and available hand sanitation. Face masks are recommended, but not required. The number of spectators will be limited.
The first game is Thursday at 1 p.m. between Salem Hills and Springville high schools at Salem Hills High. Spanish Fork plays Provo at 5 p.m. at the same location, while Maple Mountain and Cottonwood play at 5 p.m. at Maple Mountain.
Each team will pay an entrance fee of $800 that pays for umpires, insurance and facility rental.
Golfers will also get a chance to compete for some accolades. The Utah Section PGA, which operates the state championships for the UHSAA, will run individual tournaments Wednesday and next week. The winners gain consideration for all-state teams.
The girls’ 5A and 6A matches take place Wednesday at Fox Hollow Golf Course, while the 4A, 3A and 2A championships — as well as boys’ 1A — all take place June 4 at Rose Park Golf Course. No team titles will be awarded.
Spectators will be allowed at the golf courses, but coaches and caddies won’t. In addition, scores won’t be posted on a board to avoid golfers congregating in close proximity.