As coronavirus cases continue to multiply in the state, why would Missouri forge ahead with high school sports?

The Missouri State High School Activities Association had a chance to do the right thing at this pivotal moment and postpone football and other high-risk fall activities, including soccer and volleyball, until the spring.

But the show will go on, apparently.

On Tuesday, MSHSAA’s board of directors approved a plan that will allow high school athletes to participate in extracurricular activities. By refusing to turn off the Friday night lights until the spread of the coronavirus has been slowed, the activities association missed an opportunity to protect the health of young people.

More than two dozen other states have delayed the start of fall activities. And at least eight states will not play football this fall out of fear of exposing athletes to COVID-19.

The high school football season in neighboring Illinois will run from Feb. 15 to May 1 under a modified schedule.

To protect its students, Missouri should have followed suit.

“I keep getting stuck at, if it’s not safe enough to go to the school building, why is it safe enough to practice?” MSHSAA Executive Director Kerwin Urhahn told The Star Editorial Board.

Urhahn is asking the right question. In the Kansas City area, the number of coronavirus cases more than doubled during the month of July, surpassing 20,000 and providing few glimmers of immediate hope.

Even if Missouri starts the high school sports season this month, coronavirus outbreaks could quickly derail it, leaving school districts in limbo and student athletes in danger of missing out on important opportunities.

Why put the health of young athletes and their families at risk by playing?

The pandemic already has forced the postponement of games and has cast doubt on the safe return of professional sports. Most notably, Major League Baseball has struggled mightily to contain COVID-19 and keep players on the field. If the MLB, with its wealth of resources, can’t contain the virus, what chance do high school teams have?

Missouri, which is now categorized as a red zone as COVID-19 cases continue to spike, should make the health and safety of all student athletes the priority. MSHSAA’s current return-to-play guidelines were modified this week, allowing school districts that are not offering in-person classes a chance to compete.

Delaying high-risk fall sports until spring was the safest strategy. Many school districts in the urban areas of Kansas City and St. Louis had been forced to decide between all-virtual or in-person classes, or a combination of the two. Some have committed to online learning only, which would have put in jeopardy players’ opportunities to earn college scholarships if MSHSAA had not reconsidered and allowed all eligible student athletes to take the field.

This week is a dead period for high school football teams and other fall athletes across the state. First-year Rockhurst High School Football Coach Kelly Donohoe is eager to get started on Monday, the first official day of practice.

Earlier this week, Donohoe questioned whether having a spring high school football season was the best approach.

“If you cancel sports, these high school and college kids are going to be anxious,” he said. “What are those kids going to do?”

William Harris, football head coach at Van Horn High School, said he’s not opposed to spring football. He’s more concerned about having the season derailed by coronavirus outbreaks and seniors not being able to showcase their talent for college scouts.

“We’ll roll with the punches and go line up and play wherever and whenever it is safe for the kids,” Harris said.

High school sports are an essential part of so many students’ lives. No young athletes should lose out on an opportunity to compete.

While a delay for football and other fall sports would have been disappointing, that option offered the best chance to complete the season uninterrupted by COVID-19 infections. Missouri should have protected high school athletes by postponing the season.

Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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