Editor’s Note: This is the first in a multi-part series looking at where island sports is at six months later amid COVID-19.
Many of Guam’s student athletes were bitterly disappointed when the governor was forced to shut down schools - and with the interscholastic sports.
While they understand the shutdown is meant 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, stay motivated to pursue higher goals, and for some was a ticket to college scholarships and a better way of life.
But the pandemic that struck the island and shuttered schools in March maintains its grip on the island with the new school year.
Over the next couple of weeks, The Guam Daily Post will be looking at various organizations and talking with the stakeholders and The Powers That Be to gauge sports at every level.
We open up our series with interscholastic sports, which affects more than 1,000 athletes and their supporters. When COVID rolled around in March, athletes held out hope that the stay-at-home order would be temporary, however, it soon became evident that fourth-quarter and the summer would roll through without a single event in sight. It is now the middle of the first quarter and gyms and fields across the island are still silent.
For the leaders of the island’s two interscholastic leagues – Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam and Guam Department of Education’s Interscholastic Sports Association – the emphasis will always be on student safety and adhering to government health guidelines. Both – IIAAG President Terry Debold and ISA acting coordinator Al Garrido – said safety is paramount to any decision moving forward.
Question: What effect do you think the pandemic and not having sports is having on student-athletes?
Debold: I understand the severity of COVID. I do. I fully respect that people are trying to do their best to keep people healthy. However, this is having a far worse impact on the physical, emotional, mental, and just generally social well-being of our youth. I’m not a medical expert to be able to say, ‘where is the balance?’ … There needs to be more emphasis, or at least more discussion, on how we can look at both sides of this, and how this is going to impact the long-term development of these youth today.
Garrido: I think that there is definitely a downturn in the benefits that our young malleable athletes receive from sports. Many people don’t realize that it’s more than just competing, and it’s not even only about making it to play at the next level or to be accepted into a college. Our students are missing out on the travel time, the exposure to different elements that exercise the mind, body and the soul. Our students are missing out on the coping skills that they learn from a huge loss, or the character development from winning a championship. Sports teaches resilience, it fosters camaraderie and it brings families and friends together. All of that. And I haven’t even discussed the physical development part. And I won’t because everybody knows that part already.
We can’t help it, of course, and it is frustrating to not be able to control these factors. The bottom line is that safety comes first. I want all the ISA athletes to know that we cannot and will not put their safety at risk. But as soon as we are able to safely return to practice and return to games, we need to get our student athletes out there. Even the fans who watch sports are missing out.
Q: Have you spoken with the student athletes or have they shared their concerns? What do you tell them?
Debold: I am constantly contacted by students that are – honestly – emotionally hurt because they are unable to do anything. … Up until the stay-at-home order, … these people were finding ways to train. Literally, they were exercising because they had such high hopes and they wanted to be in shape. They were exercising, they were training, they were doing anything they could to be prepared. But this recent stay-at-home, this recent closure has completely dampened their hopes.
All I can do is let them know, and I continually reassure them that, at some point, we will start to living our lives and you’ll be back in sports. You just need to continue to keep your focus on when we’re able to start resuming sports and be prepared for that. You have to prepare yourself. Don’t look at what’s happening today. Look at what you can do right now to prepare yourself.
Garrido: They ask me when we will start sports. Some are concerned that their two sports might clash. Some are wondering if there will even be a season. I tell them that we are currently on hold. But things are looking very drastic. One by one, sports leagues are getting canceled in the mainland and we cannot ignore that. But we want to remain positive. Our student-athletes should know that they have a crew of athletic directors and coaches who are strategizing and planning and waiting for the approval to start. That’s our frame of mind right now.
See part 2 of this interview in tomorrow's Guam Daily Post.