It’s Just a Game, Right?



St. Louis County Executive Sam Page speaks during a news conference Tuesday, June 23, 2020, in Town and Country, Mo. Accenture Federal Services, a subsidiary of global consulting firm Accenture, announced during the news conference it plans to open an advanced technology center in the area later this year bringing with it up to 1,400 jobs providing federal government agencies with support in a variety of digital areas. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Ryan Lally, Writer

The small world of many St. Louis high school students, parents, teachers, and coaches was shaken on Wednesday when St. Louis County Executive Sam Page outlined an increase in restrictions on youth sports. Citing various COVID-19 statistics and intending to slow the spread of COVID-19, Page made decisions which will alter many students’ day-to-day lives, as well as their mental health. Only time will tell if his decision was appropriate, but nevertheless, immediate controversy has arisen. 

Dr. Page’s guidelines began by separating the various youth and high school sports into categories based on the level of risk for transmission of COVID-19. The “High Frequency of Contact” sports played at the high school level include hockey, football, basketball, lacrosse, rugby, water polo, and wrestling. In the “Moderate Frequency of Contact” category are baseball, soccer, ultimate frisbee, softball, and volleyball. And the “Low Frequency of Contact” sports include swimming, diving, cross country, track & field, tennis, and golf. Each category includes a wider variety of sports than mentioned here, but not many of them apply to many high schools in the area. After grouping the sports in this way, Page decided that only the sports in the “Low Frequency of Contact” category would be safe for high school students to compete in.

For Priory, this means that until further notice, our football team and our soccer team are not allowed to have games. Teams barred from competition are allowed to continue practicing with social distancing and masks (with the exception of rigorous exercise where masks will not be required,) but not to play against other schools. The Cross-Country team is still allowed to run at meets, as they are in the “Low Frequency of Contact” category.

County Executive Page made the interesting decision to not prevent competition for children under the age of 14, regardless of the level of contact, as long as there are no fans or tournaments. He cited a steep increase in COVID-19 cases, as well as a 20% test-positivity rate in ages 15-19, as the reason for preventing the better part of high school competition. However, none of those cases in the 15-19 age range has been linked to transmission from sporting events. He is allowing younger children to play, saying that elementary school students account for less than 10% of COVID-19 cases in schools. Page has advised schools to move their affected Fall sports to the Spring. High schools across the county had until Sept. 17 to notify MSHSAA of their decision. 

Almost immediately after Page’s decision, chaos ensued. Students took to social media to express their dissent and to organize in-person protests at Page’s home. A petition was created which called for the restrictions of all high school sports across St. Louis County to be lifted, and it has received nearly 15,000 signatures. Local attorney Al Watkins, who gained recognition months ago for representing Mark and Patricia McCloskey, called for 1,000 high school athletes to express opposition to the restrictions, so that he could then use the opposition as evidence in the lawsuit he is now threatening against Page. Much of the unrest comes purely from the fact that these limitations exist in St. Louis County, but not in nearby regions such as St. Charles County. As with most legislation, not everything could be covered by Page’s restrictions, so schools could circumvent Page’s restrictions by trying to play outside St. Louis County. Events like the Marquette Preseason Hockey Tournament in Wentzville cannot technically be stopped by Page’s new rules, but schools such as Priory have decided not to let their teams participate in the tournament in accordance with the new rules (despite hockey being a club sport). However, other schools within St. Louis County such as Chaminade and Vianney still plan to participate.

For now, all there is to do is wait. Hopefully, COVID-19 cases will decrease due to preventative measures and everything can slowly go back to normal. But until then, many students, and the games they love, will remain in limbo.