As the number of COVID-19 cases climbs locally and globally, sports organizations all over the world are attempting to make a comeback amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the Los Angeles Lakers claimed their 17th championship by defeating the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of the 2020 NBA Finals.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the NBA was without a clear-cut strategy for resuming competition, nor did it have a safe venue for hosting games. And, infighting between the owners and the players’ union seemed to create an impossible obstacle for not only safe, but any return to competition.

Yet, against seemingly insurmountable odds, the NBA pulled off the impossible.

Before April 2020, Wimbledon, the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament, had only been canceled due to war - World Wars I and II closing down the All England Championship from 1915-1918 and then again in 1945.

At the height of the novel coronavirus pandemic, as Europe was still battling its first wave of COVID-19, fear seemed to be spreading even faster than the virus, and Wimbledon was canceled for a sixth time.

While tennis is generally considered to be lower-risk sport, in more ways than just its social distance nature, it seemed like the the remaining two Grand Slam tournaments would follow suit and competition would be shut down until at least 2021.

But, the U.S. and French Opens went against the grain and hosted competition in empty arenas, filling newspaper headlines with something less depressing than virus and disease.

Last week, Rafa Nadal, the No. 2 world-ranked men’s tennis player, won his 13th French Open title, ousting top-seeded Novak Djokovic, 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.

In MLB, both the American League and National League Championship Series are currently underway.

In the NFL, Week 5 just wrapped up and teams are charging ahead as the season approaches the midseason mark.

Interscholastic sports may soon see the light of day

Slowly, even on Guam, sports are coming back.

In March, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero declared a public health emergency and pulled the plug on athletics.

Earlier this month, amid Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1, the government’s most severe level of lockdown, Leon Guerrero issued an executive order that allowed gyms to resume at 25% of capacity and tennis facilities and golf courses to reopen for play.

Now, while caution remains, there is hope.

The Guam Department of Education on Thursday announced that lower-risk sports - cross-country, girls volleyball and tennis - are slated to return next semester.

Jon Fernandez, GDOE superintendent, told The Guam Daily Post that reintroducing interscholastic athletics will depend upon the governor and the Department of Public Health and Social Services relaxing restrictions and unlocking competition, but he is optimistic.

Terry Debold, the president of the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam, told the Post on Friday that the organization's return-to-play task force held its first meeting and the members are hoping for a quick return to play.

“We had a great meeting yesterday,” he said. “We have students getting involved as well that are going to be participating in the subcommittee. … Honestly, I’m looking at starting something within the next couple months.

"With the governor relieving of some of the restrictions, it was an indication that we are getting close to a point that we can find our way back relatively soon," he added.

Apart from stopping the spread of the virus and keeping everyone safe, Debold said, reconditioning athletes for competition will be one of the greatest challenges.

"We’ve had nearly seven, maybe eight months where the kids have been completely deconditioned," he said.

“Young adults, young kids, if they were playing a sport last year, their bodies, their minds are kind of already groomed to remember how fast they can run, how far they can run, how high they can jump, what they can push. … Their mindsets are still stuck on this level.

“So, all of a sudden, if you start a program, their minds aren’t telling them ‘Oh no, you can’t run that fast right now because you’re not in condition to do that, or go that hard, or go that far.’”

“That could be hazardous,” he said.

In the spring, or sooner, when interscholastic sports start back up, if they do, the island’s student-athletes will have been without competition for many months, possibly even a full year. As island leaders wrestle with formulating and submitting return-to-play strategies, it appears student-athletes may be one or two steps closer to competition.

"We will need safety plans for all sports to include fitness and conditioning, practice and competition. These are all works in progress, and in line with our broader discussion relative to potentially reopening schools," Fernandez said.

The return to competition “is essential to the physical and mental well-being of high school students across the nation to return to physical activity and athletic competition,” said the National Federation of High School Associations, the governing body for high school athletics.

No word on high school golf

While golf is allowed, socially distant by design, neither the Interscholastic Sports Association, the league that runs public school sports, nor the IIAAG has indicated when it might tee off.

With traditional venues for high school meets shuttered or available exclusively to U.S. residents, such as the vacant Wonderful Windward Hills Golf Course or the Palm Tree Golf Course at Andersen Air Force Base, respectively, golf's return to sport faces a unique obstacle. 

“I am not sure what direction IIAAG will be taking,” said Richard Sablan, the president of the Guam National Golf Federation, whose son, Ivan Sablan, is one of the top high school golfers.

“As far as the GNGF is concerned, we have been working with DPHSS on this issue and (we) have been given the authorization to proceed with our ranking events.

“Of course, this is subject to very stringent safety protocols, which, of course, we are happy to implement.

“If IIAAG will follow our lead, then, they may consider allowing the high school golf competition to resume sometime during this school year.

“‘It may be a long time before we get back to any sense of normalcy and, if we’re waiting till it gets safer, we may be waiting for years,’” Richard Sablan said, recalling a recent conversation he had with a physician.

“So, the question is, ‘Do we sit and remain stagnant, or do we face up to our new reality and figure out a way to try and safely get some of these sports back online?’” Richard Sablan asked.

"In this current environment of uncertainty and anxiety, it is especially critical that student-athletes get involved in activities that promote both physical and mental well-being," he added.

“These kids are young, and they have a lot of pent-up energy,” he said. “We need to find a way to help them channel this energy in the right direction.”

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