Padecky: How the pandemic forces a decision between mental and physical health for athletes and coaches
The teenager wants to play football. Dad wants to go to the local bar and have a few pops with the guys from work. Mom wants to go to her favorite Italian restaurant. The dog wants to bark.
Who gets their way during a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans?
Should only be the dog.
Ah, but if a clear, well-accepted and coordinated plan to keep people alive during the worst public health crisis this country has seen in more than 100 years is your goal, start taking Tylenol four times a day and live in a bunker until you’re told to come out.
Otherwise, stay above ground with your friend, the headache.
“It’s all about the kids,” said St. Vincent football coach Trent Herzog on why there is club football. The verb “is” means club football is still being played, from Woodland to Bakersfield. It is not, however, played with kids from Sonoma County.
Never has such a simple sentence contained so much complexity. An onion doesn’t have as many layers. Like peeling that onion, however, this could make a grown man cry. Herzog acknowledges that.
“There’s 50 percent who would agree (to play club football) and 50 percent who wouldn’t,” Herzog said. The concept is so emotionally charged, Herzog later adds, “50 percent will love me and 50 percent will hate me.”
Two teams from Sonoma County, coached by men from St. Vincent and Cardinal Newman, played two games of club football before the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) announced last week the resumption of a high school football season, however truncated.
Doesn’t take a clairvoyant who bends spoons in his spare time to determine club pushed the CIF to that decision. A club program in Southern California has been in existence since December, including teams from Arizona. The CIF needs to remind everyone in this state who’s in charge of adolescent athletics.
Which now has been revealed as a fraud. The CIF is not in charge. Parents are. If enough parents get a sand spur under their saddle, who have enough political clout and maybe a few bucks, they can make hopscotch a CIF sport.
In the case of the two Sonoma County club teams, parents picked the rosters. The coaches were to coach. Opinions and suggestions were welcome, but when it costs between $500-$700 to send a kid to a club team, we know where the buck stops, at the inside of the wallet. At a time when people have lost their jobs and health coverage, money doesn’t flow like spring runoff. According to the Manteca-Ripon Bulletin newspaper, 28.9% of the kids who play are from public schools.
So, yes, it is about the kids, a select group of kids, kids who are hand-picked and many who do not come from families struggling financially.
The two club programs were strict about health protocols. Officials and coaches had to wear masks. Players not on the field had to wear masks. Temperatures were taken. Questions were asked about proximity to anyone sick.
“We had zero cases among our players,” said Phil Grams, president of the California Association of Private Sports, the nonprofit that runs the Northern California club program.
Yes, that’s terrific, that so far no one has had to judge the value of club football versus illness. Would one virus case be too much? Would one COVID death? No one has yet to develop a metric for that.
The kids need to play. No one disagrees with that. Depression is common. Herzog said two of his players have dropped out of school. Every parent of a teenager, including the one writing this column, and every parent who has had a teenager, knows this is a critical, formative time in their social development. Athletics is one of the primary conduits to emotional stability.
“Football was so important to me in high school,” Herzog said. “I went to school so I could play football. I would have dropped out if it wasn’t for football.”
Teenagers in crisis, sadly, are not experiencing a unique development. Jan Smith Billing, commissioner of the North Bay League, is well acquainted with stress. Smith Billing, 67, was in high school during the Vietnam Conflict.
Teenage boys across America, long before they became senior football players, were clenching their teeth and fists. They saw older friends or brothers go off to war and never come back, or if they came back, they weren’t all there.
“It was a brutal reality,” Smith Billing said, “and if today’s seniors don’t play, they adapt. It’s not like they are going off to die.”
Smith Billing does not set policy. She is more of a gatherer than enforcer, getting athletic directors or principals together to discuss problems and solutions. Smith Billing did such a thing last week. Concerns were voiced on public school kids being influenced to transfer to private schools, on kids with a month of contact now practicing with kids who just put on pads.