COVID-19 could exacerbate trend toward lower sports participation

October 19, 2020 — by Aaria Thomas
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Each year, as senior Charlotte Shewchuk walked onto the upperfield to see her soccer teammates for the season, she felt increasingly unsettled by how the size of the team had declined. With each new season came new worries — fears of the team being eliminated or not having any substitutes during games flitted through her mind.

With the pandemic upending the school year, this fear of low sports participation has only heightened, transforming into a concern of not having a team or season at all.

COVID-19 regulations have led to postponed practices and games, and as result, students may be less inclined to join a school sport, athletics director Tim Lugo said. In turn, this could lead to an inability to fill spots on some sports teams — in the worst-case scenario, the school would no longer be able to offer that sport.

According to Lugo, participation in school sports has dropped from 65 percent to 54 percent over the past four years. Instead of playing school sports, more students are opting to enroll in P.E. or participate in an outside club sport. The pandemic has sparked fears that the trend will worsen.

“With the current state of things, I’m less worried about low sign-ups and more concerned about not having a season at all,” Shewchuck said.

With Santa Clara County moving into first the red and then the orange tier for reopening, teams have been allowed to return for workouts but still cannot hold regular practices. This has been a “huge obstacle” to teams’ progress, said senior Grant Petters, a varsity football quarterback.

“We’re basically practicing as if it were June right now, even with two months until game time,” Petters said.

Most sports teams will begin sign-ups and practices in mid-November, so Lugo is unsure of how sports participation will actually play out this year.

Petters was surprised when he noticed that the football team had grown from 28 players last year to about 32 players this year.

Lugo said that in an effort to increase the number of students participating in school sports during the pandemic, the school is allowing students to play on multiple teams. Since winter and spring sports are taking place at the same time, the school needs to be more flexible than in past years.

Due to a new California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) rule regarding sports during the pandemic, students can only play a sport for 18 hours a week, so games and the selection of sports students end up playing must be carefully organized and monitored.

Even when life begins to return to normal after the pandemic, uncertainty about participation for Saratoga High’s sports program remains.

“I think kids are going to be happy to return to some level of normalcy,” Lugo said. “We're in uncharted waters here, so no one knows how this will affect the future.”