By Paul Klee firstname.lastname@example.orgJan 23, 2021 Updated Jan 24, 2021
DENVER — The emperors have no science.
Maybe in 5, 10, 20 years the sins committed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will be exposed in a more important space than this. But for now its dangerously myopic approach to kids and COVID-19 is laid bare in none other than high school basketball.
The coronavirus protocols CDPHE is forcing on prep athletes are more anti-science and half-sighted than sensible policy. Colorado High School Activities Association basketball programs can start playing games Monday, and here’s just a snippet of the arbitrary ridiculousness CDPHE has put in place.
– CHSAA athletes must wear masks while they are competing in basketball games. They are not required to wear masks during wrestling matches. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
– CHSAA officials wisely requested a “mask timeout,” where kids can socially distance from each other, drop their masks for a brief period of time and catch a deep breath. CDPHE said no.
– Between games played in the same gym on a single day, basketball coaches were informed Thursday, there must be a minimum 30 minutes of empty gym time to “clean and clear the air.”
Clear the air!
Great idea. Let’s do it: Colorado’s so-called health experts never again are allowed to speak on the importance of sound mental health among our youth. They’ve used their mulligan and sliced it straight into the drink. Seven in 10 people aged 18-23 are experiencing symptoms of depression, according to the American Psychological Association, and I’ve seen enough prep practices lately to know it’s not any better with kids.
Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of the coaches and educators witnessing firsthand how the tunnel vision behind CDPHE protocols is doing more damage to our kids than the virus itself.
“We’re down a whole team this year,” Evergreen girls coach Maddy Hornecker said.
In the JeffCo League alone, seven of nine programs dropped their Level 3 teams this season. Not enough players wanted to endure the protocols, including wearing masks during a strenuous activity, to justify fielding freshmen teams. The Lakewood girls program is down 10 players. Evergreen usually has 8-12 freshmen come out for basketball. These days it has five. Green Mountain is one of the two schools fielding a Level 3 team, but even the Rams are down a dozen girls overall. At least three of the missing players cited overbearing protocols to explain their sudden absence. Who knows if they ever return to the basketball court? The wide-ranging benefits of high school athletics don’t matter to CDPHE’s unelected officials, who have been wrong over and over again yet apparently answer to no one.
Common sense has transferred out. Do you really think a kid who quits sports will take safer precautions against COVID-19 without the incentive of staying healthy to finish a season with their friends — some of the first social interaction they’ve had in 10 months?
“Everything I’ve ever learned or been taught on how to help kids is you’ve got to take care of their mental health first — or you’re not getting through to them on anything,” Hornecker said. “Sports are a big part of that. This mask rule is absolutely detrimental to their mental health.”
Thursday afternoon, the Lakewood girls reviewed the protocols in place for when their season opens Wednesday against Wheat Ridge. Need a drink of water? Don’t you dare lower your mask to take a sip near another human. Bless his heart, a Lakewood athletic director has offered to buy straws for the boys and girls teams. Straws, folks. Straws.
“I just think some of these (rules) are based in public optics and not real-life situations,” Lakewood girls coach Chris Poisson said. “We need to have a balance of safety and accountability, yet we need to be realistic about things. What we’re doing is not realistic.”
And I’m sure you’ll be stunned to learn there’s a political lean to these mask rules in high school basketball, just as there was with the fall football season. At last check, 16 states require masks during competition; 12 are run by Democrat governors. Twenty-three states are not requiring masks during competition; 21 are run by Republican governors. That’s not science. That’s tribalism. That’s sticking with your own.
How about sticking up for the kids for once?
Like so many “health” policies right now, the nonsense imposed on high school athletes is another example of hurting the good people who can least afford to be hurt. Erin Eskew is the mom of a high school senior with asthma. Mom suggested CDPHE officials swing by their school and run through drills wearing a mask.
“Normally, (her asthma) is manageable. Not anymore,” she said. “Her face was so red after practice and her asthma was so bad I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to manage it at home.”
Danielle Bynum is the mother of a freshman basketball player born with a heart defect.
“When his blood pressure and breathing get high he takes deep breaths to help with his inhaler. You add a mask to that and he’s going to be way behind his peers,” she said.
It’s not March 2020 anymore. It’s January 2021. We know COVID-19 is a horrible illness that must be taken seriously, and that it presents a near-zero serious risk to kids. And if the objective is to prevent transmission of the virus from kids to adults, it’s the parents who should decide if they want kids to exercise in masks. Here, the parents decided: Darren Pitzner, the girls coach at Green Mountain, surveyed 300 Colorado families for their opinion on mask mandates, quarantines and the like. Over 90 percent believe kids who have been health screened should be able to remove their mask to play indoor sports. Further, over 85 percent of Colorado families feel they should have the option of opting-in to sports based on their family’s risk factors rather than be subjected to blanket closures and cancellations.
“It’s our own policies that are costing the kids, not the virus,” Pitzner said.
These coaches aren’t taking COVID-19 lightly, not in the slightest. Pitzner’s 74-year-old parents had severe cases of COVID-19. His goal is to return kids to a healthy state of mind.
“For 10 months they’ve faced nothing but cuts, closures, cancellations and the constant threat of quarantines,” Pitzner said. “As leaders we need to do everything we can to provide some semblance of normalcy right now.”
Halfway through a recent practice, the Green Mountain girls paused a drill for a breather.
“We have the new breathable masks coming in a couple days,” Pitzner told his players.
“I don’t think any of them are, coach,” one sophomore responded.
The same educators allotted 5 minutes to sanitize classrooms between classes now must spend 30 minutes to “clean and clear the air” in a cavernous gymnasium between games.
Please, help it make sense.
A recent Harris poll showed seven in 10 teens are struggling with mental health. Forty-two percent experience anxiety, 45 percent with excess stress, 43 percent with depression. Sad, dangerous, potentially life-altering science right there. Turns out, that science doesn’t count.
(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)