Editor’s note: This is the second in a multipart series looking at where island sports stand six months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
The island's interscholastic athletes have been idle for months and are eagerly awaiting word of when they can compete in their respective sports.
While they understand the shutdown in March was necessary to protect the health of island residents, it doesn’t mar the truth that interscholastic sports, for many, was a way to stay fit mentally and physically and stay motivated to pursue higher goals. For some, it was a ticket to college scholarships and a better way of life.
In part 2 of our series, Guam's two interscholastic sports leaders shared their thoughts with The Guam Daily Post. Emphasizing safety as a priority, the two discussed the possibility of sports for this year's athletes and reiterated their commitment to the overall well-being of the student-athletes they serve.
The Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam, headed by Terry Debold, and Guam Department of Education Interscholastic Sports Association, headed by Al Garrido, field several thousand athletes across middle school and high school in about 20 different sports.
Q: Do you see any future for interscholastic sports?
Debold: While COVID-19 has changed everything about our routine lives, it has also highlighted the fact that interscholastic sports are more than just an extracurricular activity. Interscholastics are proven to help with the favorable development of our youth not only on the athletic or physical end, but as well with their social interaction, leadership and general learning skills.
I’m sure everyone will agree that real “Interscholastics” cannot be replaced with online or virtual alternatives and, as with my IIAAG partners, I am committed to doing whatever we can to provide our students with actual interscholastic sports competition, even if at a limited level or with a modified platform. I remain very optimistic that, at some point during this school year, we will be able to work with our administrators and government to help our sports programs resume.
Garrido: Of course. I have the responsibility to do my best to find a way for interscholastic sports to be held during SY 2020-2021. I don’t take that responsibility for granted. I’m just glad that I have my ADs and school admins all working together to see if that could become a reality. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, because we can’t determine that. But there are thousands of GDOE student-athletes that deserve at least the possibility of a chance. So, for those student-athletes, I won’t give up hope until I am told otherwise.
Q: What changes can you foresee being made so that interscholastic sports could happen?
There’s no doubt, both say, that COVID-19 will forever change the face of sports and how athletes, fans and coaches interact at any event.
The discussion and decisions that need to be made are daunting, Debold said, emphasizing there is no one-size-fits-all or easy fix to sports.
Garrido said one of the bigger changes will be stakeholders’ approach and their acceptance of the situation, regardless of what measures need to be put in place.
Debold: Just putting together the safe-return-to-play guidelines and procedures are very extensive, and that doesn't necessarily address many other possible changes with respective sports. There will also need to be attention to logistics (i.e. facilities, transportation, schedules). Then, on top of it all, the government guidelines and policies ... plus a host of other potential unforeseen issues.
Garrido: We need athletic directors and coaches to be vigilant. They must now become the protectors of themselves, their families, and the students that they are put in charge. We will need families to understand the restrictions that will be set and work together to make it all happen. If there are only 50 people allowed in a gym due to restrictions, then we need to all accept that. We will probably have to continuously modify and change to adapt for the greater good. I believe we need a partnership between everybody to be kind and thoughtful and to be problem solvers and to take ownership in the fact that we are all in this together and success can only be had as a group.
Second, the guidelines we will be putting into place will be guidelines that many will have already witnessed. The temperature checks, the distance requirements and the sanitizing of hands and equipment. That, plus the unique requirements that each sport may have.
Q: Are there any experiences you've had that could be comparable to this?
Debold: I can remember SARS, I can remember H1N1, I remember the North Korea threats, it can be typhoons. The facilities were destroyed, there was no water, there was no power. Of course, the kids couldn’t do anything. But, in every one of those cases, there was at least a glimmer of hope, there was light at the end of the tunnel. And, every glimmer of hope we had, we were down to zero cases, zero cases. Things were getting better here. The kids, they were like, "we’re almost there."
The kids could start preparing and they had something to look forward to. Even adults, all of us kind of saw that there was, at least, a glimmer of hope … We were more optimistic that, "OK, eventually it may be a new normal but we will at least be able to start living our lives and pursuing our goals." But, particularly with this recent and continuing-to-extend shutdown, I honestly believe that it’s even going to have a worse impact on the hopes of these youth. There’s no deadline.
Garrido: No. The closest it would come would be when there was a supertyphoon that would shut down facilities due to the damage or lack of water and electricity. Even when there was a natural disaster, you’d still see the hoopers on the courts in Umatac, or Dededo and Tamuning. Volleyball peeps would still be hitting the gyms in Agana Heights and soccer kids would be back at GFA.
But this is a whole new animal we are dealing with. With this event – we can’t even high-five. We can’t do the traditional island hug and greeting. We can’t even get too close to our teammates or coaches. So, the lack of sports is unique. It’s a lack of the fiber of sports that’s missing – which encompasses all that I mentioned above and more.