Unable to play, Summit High indoor winter sports coaches wrestle with what they can do
Pete Baker knows the realities and danger of the novel coronavirus. Baker’s grandfather currently has COVID-19, and the Summit High School wrestling coach said he wouldn’t be surprised if his grandfather dies from the virus.
“He’s 87 years old. He’s in a retirement home with Alzheimer’s. He’s not eating,” Baker said. “I’m going to lose my grandpa. I know that. That’s sad.”
At the same time, Baker has a close relation who he said is experiencing severe mental health struggles due to the isolating nature of pandemic restrictions. In the past nine months since Baker has been able to be with his Tiger wrestlers on mats, he’s weighed the different physical and mental health elements of the virus.
On Tuesday, a day after a Colorado Department of Public Health ruling led the Colorado High School Activities Association to delay the start of the state’s traditional winter sports competition by a month — from Jan. 4 to Feb. 1 — Baker was candid. Despite the health dangers he sees directly with his grandfather, he thinks elements of normal, ordinary life — like he and his wrestlers being able to wrestle — should be permitted now. Some of his wrestlers have reached out to him asking if they can work with him on the coach’s personal mats in his garage.
“I feel we should start living life and have high-risk people take care of themselves,” Baker said. “Isolate, quarantine, hand sanitize, wear a face mask — people not in that high-risk category need to go back to living normal life. And that’s in school and live sports.”
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Summit High School Director of Athletics Travis Avery on Tuesday said the district recently approved the resumption of offseason training. It will begin either this week or next, with the stipulation the groups are only permitted outdoors with a maximum of 10 individuals.
“We are looking at options to get them indoors, but we may not be able to do that,” Avery said.
Basketball coaches Kayle Walker Burns and Jordan Buller are also grappling with their thoughts on how to go about life amid the ongoing pandemic. As Baker waits for the day when the wrestling room reverts back to one full of mats, rather than its current alternative use as a school quarantine room, the basketball coaches are considering what to do with their teams amid what Walker Burns described as “a holding pattern.”
Per the Colorado Department of Public Health state-level guidance for school’s within county’s dubbed “red zones,” the girls and boys basketball teams effectively can’t do anything normally. Walker Burns said recent mild December temperatures at 9,000 feet have permitted the girls team to train outdoors. As for game play, a group of high school-aged players have traveled and will travel as a club with the Summit Youth Sports affiliation to Cheyenne, Wyoming, three hours away. There, the two club teams comprised of 10 high school players each are able to play basketball games while wearing masks.
“It’s kind of crazy. For me it’s like, the kids’ mental health is so important to me. We are doing social distancing, wearing masks as best as we can,” Walker Burns said. “But the challenge is how do you play basketball without playing basketball? It’s a contact sport. But we are willing to follow the rules as best we can in order to get some games in.”
Walker Burns’ approach to this winter has comes with an additional consideration: her 9-week-old child. She wants to be there for her kids but also is concerned for the health of her and her baby.
“I’m hopeful we can move forward and think we should move forward with mitigating risk,” she said. “And I think people need to make their own choice for their own selves. It should be up to the kid — the parent — to make the decision. And I’ll be respectful of whatever decision they make.”
Baker said his gut tells him the wrestling season won’t happen at all in CHSAA’s traditional winter sports season, which was originally slated for January through March. Walker Burns and Buller are trying to be more hopeful, with Walker Burns trying to take a “glass half full” approach to the season. At the same time, Buller has expressed some frustrations as he’s watched kids in other states play while his students haven’t been able to run 5-on-5 since the end of last season.
He’s also frustrated out-of-town visitors are able to ski and snowboard on mountains while for the past couple of months his players have only been able to interact with him and one other through a computer screen.
Buller also has concerns about the social and physical needs of his team members. He’s considered getting creative to help his kids play the game they love, but is also hesitant to encourage them to go to club tournaments. He doesn’t want his student-athletes to get sick or risk needing to quarantine for two weeks, which could hinder the team’s preparations for whatever actual season may lie ahead. He feels every option he sees is a no-win scenario.
“I try to keep remembering we’re not the only high school in the country, in the state, dealing with this,” Buller said. “A lot of places are hurting right now. I’m not trying to ask for special permission, but sometimes I feel like there could be a little more push for high school sports and awareness around that, but I’ll be grateful for anything we can get.”
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