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Parents, coaches, wear a mask to keep sports alive

While I have not been writing about it, I am as excited as anyone (well, OK, not everyone) that high school sports are back. It really feels like a semblance of normalcy to see young boys and girls taking to the ice, or the basketball court, and doing the things they love the most.

I have had multiple conversations with hockey coaches over the past week and half, with every single one of them talking about the mental state of their players. In all my years of covering sports at various levels, I have never really seen this much conversation about how much it means to these coaches to see their young charges getting back to competition.

One coach relayed a story to me about the day the kids found out they were going to be delayed again. He said the music in the locker room was turned off. The conversation almost completely died out. The kids were dejected.

Another coach told me about how the day his team found out that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the delay of the start of winter sports to Feb. 21 was so hard on his kids that the day after, when he entered the locker room prior to practice, his kids were just sitting at their stalls. Not one of them was ready to hit the ice.

In order to try to get them motivated, he changed his practice plans on the fly, turning practice into a small-games session. He said they continued that for the remainder of the week.

We have now seen a week of games played. I cannot speak for the basketball games, but the hockey games certainly have been exciting to watch. With so many games packed into each week, and little time for practice, coaches might be doing the most coaching they have ever done in games, trying to make up for that lack of skill development that comes from a lack of practice time.

Some games have been sparsely attended, some, like the Wing Ding game at the Houghton County Arena Friday night, have had a rather large number of fans.

That makes what I have to say next so important: Wear a mask as much as possible if you are going to attend these matches!

Parents, coaches, I cannot stress this enough.

I know that a lot of coaches and athletes have already been through the coronavirus experience already, but that does not excuse the example you set for others. I understand when you are having a heated discussion with a referee, and neither of you can hear each other speak, so you pull the mask down to address the referee in that moment. However, that does not excuse you from returning to your bench with your mask around your chin.

You can address your players on your bench by sitting next to them so they can hear you. The buildings are not loud enough yet where you cannot make your point to your athlete.

The NFL fined coaches for this kind of behavior. Certainly, the state of Michigan can look at how you are handling yourselves and decide that you do not need to continue competing.

Parents, the same goes for you.

If you are watching a game with your mask on, and the game goes to intermission, that does not mean it is time to huddle together in the hall and take your masks off to hold court on the weather or the game or whatever else you want to talk about. The virus does not care whether you are sitting in your seat or huddled in the hallway. It is still there, and even if you have had it already, it could end up being deadly for you.

Also, when you are sitting in the stands, the only reason you should be removing your mask is to eat or drink, not to talk to your spouse or your friend sitting right next to you. You do not know whether they have had it or not, and they don’t know if you have had it, so don’t put yourselves in a position to potentially destroy each other’s lives.

At the end of the day, this is not about you. It is about your friends, your children, and your family. They are who are protected when you wear a mask.

Be safe and be smart. These kids deserve the chance to play what, for some, may be their final season of organized sports without any more interruptions.

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