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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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UW Study Shows Impact of Shut Down on High School Athletes

Issue Date: July 22, 2020

When the first wave of coronavirus began to spread across the United States, sports were one of the first things to be shut down.

In the national spotlight, the NBA paused its season March 11, the NCAA Basketball Tournament was canceled March 12, soccer seasons across the globe shut down and the MLB pushed back the beginning of its season. Now, sports are returning, but for some high school athletes have been left in limbo.

Professional basketball and baseball have plans to resume before the end of the month, Major League Soccer has started up in America and golf is back, but high school athletes, perhaps the most dependent on sports of all, are looking less and less likely to be heading out onto the field this fall, and that's having a big impact.

A study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health from May found that 68% of surveyed adolescent athletes reported symptoms of depression in May 2020. Moderate to severe depression was three and a half times higher during May 2020.

Physical activity for respondents dropped by 50%, corresponding with drops in physical health, psychosocial health and overall health compared with historical data.

"In the short term, mental health disorders can impact whether these students use drugs/alcohol, stay in school, engage with peers or graduate from high school," the report stated. "In the long term, these disorders can become chronic and influence whether these individuals go on to college, use drugs/alcohol extensively or form meaningful lifelong relationships."

On Tuesday, the Big 8 Conference, which consists of some of the largest schools in the Madison area, canceled conference competitions. All schools have the option to schedule non-conference games as long as they follow the guidance of WIAA and public health officials, a release from the conference stated.

What happens in Madison may be different than what happens in the northeastern corner of the state. Most schools statewide haven't made any final decisions about what this year will hold.

Jeff Dorschner, Crivitz High School athletic director, said coaches are "still holding out hope of having a fall sports season," but there isn't much he can plan for as of now. All they can do is hope.

"Athletic directors by nature are planners and we are in a sit and wait situation, which makes our jobs even more difficult," Dorschner, who also coaches varsity baseball, junior high boys basketball and serves as a varsity assistant football coach, said. "But once we know the direction this fall or even winter goes, we will do our absolute best to provide that much needed structure for our kids."

The WIAA Board of Control called a meeting for Thursday morning to address the fall sports season. This summer, the WIAA released sport-specific guidelines for member schools, which instructed school districts and programs to "consult with their local health department to determine which risk level to start this program safely."

The UW-Madison study concluded with this: "Public health experts and school administrators need to consider the impacts (benefits and risks) of prolonged school closures when considering steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin."

Dean Furton, Marinette School District activities director, said schools are considering all options.

"At this time, with national and local data changing quickly, there have been countless discussions and much communication about possibilities for this fall," Furton said. "In addition to school districts deciding what education will look like this fall, it is truly a lot to consider. Just about every possibility or consideration that the public has heard for athletic seasons this school year has been discussed one way or another with our conferences and state associations. Ultimately, we'll work within the guidelines given by our local health departments and school district to safely provide whatever extra-curricular opportunities we can to our students."

While it probably won't be a normal school year, educators and administrators alike will still be trying to give students all the opportunities they can.

"The past four months have been a major interruption in their normal lives and providing any outlet or connection this school year will be a benefit to students' overall well-being," Furton said.


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