To Be or Not to Be: Football Amidst a Pandemic

Ben Cervantez, the author of this article, is a member of the SHC Varsity Football Team. 

People were cautiously optimistic. COVID-19 cases across the nation began to slow as summer began. Sacred Heart Cathedral had a fancy new hybrid learning schedule, the MLB and NBA restarted, and high school football practices had even started up again in July. Then, as people are already tired of hearing, things took a turn for the worse. Thirty MLB players contracted the virus and nearly the entire Miami Marlins team tested positive. We’ve heard it a thousand times, cases are once again rising across the country and general doom and despair hang in the air. Thousands of high schoolers are wondering if they will get the chance to play their sport(s), and the NFL is on the verge of starting their season too. While sports are undeniably a huge part of many people’s lives, they simply can’t be more important than life itself. 

In an interview with Bleacher Report, Jeff Pash, the NFL’s Executive Vice President, said “All of our discussions, all of our focus, has been on a normal, traditional season, starting on time, playing in front of fans, in our regular stadiums, and going through a full 16-game regular season and a full set of playoffs. That’s our focus.” This seems like an insurmountable task, but according to ESPN, the NFL and the NFLPA (NFL Players Association) have come to agreements on various safety measures and precautions to ensure as safe a start to the season as possible, and Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, hopes to “plow a road for the entire country as it deals with the pandemic.” These safety measures include facilities that enable keeping people six feet apart, single direction tunnels in all facilities, and even chips put in players’ pads that can sense when that player has been within six feet of another player. Furthermore, there are to be rigorous testing programs and contact tracing as well as mandatory 10-day quarantines for anyone who has symptoms. Although players will be tackling and blocking throughout each game, the NFL has also ensured that jersey swaps will be banned postgame, a ban that many see as trivial. All these precautions and more should be extremely effective. Still, everyone involved is putting their life on the line to participate, and they will have to decide for themselves if the season is worth the risk.

I’ve been looking forward to my senior season since I was a kid, I’ll go through any protocols they need me to if it means getting back in the pads.”

— Tucker Brown '21

Our own students at SHC are wondering if we will have a football season and be able to play in the coveted Bruce Mahoney game. Sacred Heart Cathedral held football practice from July 7 to July 30 in 12-man cohorts, with players staying six feet apart (and wearing masks) the entire practice, with temperature and symptom checks. After discussions with the WCAL and the SF Department of Public Health, all preseason practices and workouts have been postponed indefinitely, and the official in-season padded practices are set to start on December 12. Games would then start at the beginning of January, according to the CIF plan. School officials are cautiously optimistic that the pandemic will be far more under control by winter. However, if COVID-19 isn’t under control by then, there are serious questions about the likelihood of starting a season, let alone finishing one. Nevertheless, students aren’t deterred. SHC’s starting quarterback, Cian Dowling ‘21, claimed he would “do anything to be back on the field.” SHC and other high schools do not have the money to completely rearrange their facilities and input contact tracing chips in pads like the NFL. Does this mean a season completely down the drain? Seniors who will never have their culminating football season? Sadly, this is a possible reality, even though coaches and administrators are doing everything in their power to have a season. As SHC’s starting middle linebacker Tucker Brown ‘21 put it, “I’ve been looking forward to my senior season since I was a kid, I’ll go through any protocols they need me to if it means getting back in the pads.”

High school football is a major part of many people’s lives. For some coaches, it is a livelihood, and for some students, a season can be the difference between being able to go to college or not. All involved love the game and would be devastated to not be able to play for a year. We can only hope that conditions get exponentially better in the next coming months. Should they not, a serious question looms about the possibility of having a season amidst a pandemic. Will SHC adopt policies like the NFL? Or will we have a year without high school football? These questions and more are yet to be answered, but one thing remains clear: safety is and will continue to be paramount for all student-athletes.