Extra points: Time to Pull Plug on “Friday Night Lights”
The cloud hovering over high school fall sports is every bit as ominous as the ones that blanketed the area during Tropical Storm Isaias last week.
It's beginning to look like "Friday Night Lights" won't be shining in our area this fall.
Leagues and conferences at various levels have decided to pull the plug. The Big 10 and Pac 12 Conferences announced Tuesday that it is postponing its upcoming football season due to concerns about the coronavirus and will try to play in the spring. The New Jersey Athletic Conference has already canceled fall sports for 2020.
"There are just too many uncertainties to feel comfortable, from a medical standpoint, to proceed forward," Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren told the Big Ten Network Tuesday. "Just having our student-athletes compete in fall sports, we just didn't believe it was prudent at this time."
And the trend has filtered down to other levels. The Philadelphia Public League canceled all high school sports until 2021. According to Coast Sports Today, the Atlantic Cape Junior High League nixed all fall sports for seventh- and eighth-grade student athletes Monday.
Unfortunately, the West Jersey Football League and Cape-Atlantic League may have no choice but to follow suit. Don't be surprised if league officials postpone football, boys and girls soccer, field hockey, boys and girls cross country, and girls tennis.
The NJSIAA Sports Advisory Task Force, which is comprised of athletic directors, tried its best to help salvage the fall sports season by delaying the start of the various seasons and shortening schedules. Girls tennis is scheduled to begin Sept. 28, Oct. 1 for other sports and Oct. 2 for football.
Derryk Sellers, president of the WJFL, realigned the divisions in order to cut down on travel for football teams.
"No colleges in the state will be playing football," Sellers said Tuesday. "We (the WJFL) are moving forward as we will play until we are told otherwise."
That directive could be coming soon.
Actually, I think it would be safe to go ahead with the girls tennis season and possibly cross country, but the risk is simply too great for the other sports, especially football.
Not everyone agrees. There are coaches, players, fans and school officials who maintain hope that the season will happen.
The hashtags #Letthemplay and #WeWanttoPlay have popped up all over social media, accompanied by pleas from Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and St. Joseph High School in Hammonton, among thousands of others.
"High school football is needed," St. Joe's football team wrote on its Twitter feed. "Every staff and every kid is working. Sports are needed mentally and physically. Precautions will be taken #Letthemplay."
Ertz, the Eagles' outstanding tight end, immersed himself in football at Monte Vista High School in Danville, Calif. as a way of dealing with a family issue.
During his sophomore year in high school, his parents separated and eventually divorced. Football provided a much-needed break from what was a stressful and emotionally painful time.
"I was 15 years old, I was the oldest of four boys, and the only thing that I knew how to do, the only way I could express myself - I was so frustrated inside - the only thing I could do was play football," Ertz said earlier this week on a teleconference with the media. "All I did was lift weights, play football, play basketball, and that allowed me to kind of release my internal stress and pressure that I had built up.
"And the adversity I faced when I was 15 is about 1-1,000th of what many kids in this state (Pennsylvania) in particular are going to be facing if they don't have an outlet, if there is no football in the fall for these kids, and I would just really challenge everyone if the decision is no football, there's got to be an alternative where we (don't) just allow these kids to go about their days with no guidance, with no further investment."
Believe me, I wish there was a way to avoid it.
High school sports, whether it be playing or watching, have been part of my life almost my entire life. My late father served as varsity football and baseball coach at Lower Cape May Regional in the early 1960s and 1970s, respectively. I later played those two sports for the Caper Tigers, as did my two younger brothers Mark and Paul. Children Ashley (softball) and Kyle (basketball, baseball) also played. Hopefully, grandsons Hampton and Graham will one day be suiting up.
My sportswriting career was centered around the Eagles and boxing, but I still got a kick out of covering a high school football game on Friday night, not to mention basketball, baseball, crew, lacrosse, softball, swimming, track and field, and wrestling events over the years.
I'm well aware of their importance. Sports - as well as other extracurricular activities like band, choir, and the school play - serve various roles. For some, they represent opportunity. For far too many, they provide an escape from a terrible family situation.
To take them away for the fall semester would be heart-breaking for them.
But it's necessary in order to try and flatten the curve of Covid-19. Physical sports such as football, soccer and lacrosse put the players at too much risk, not to mention the coaches, officials, parents and other students.
Hopefully, things will calm down enough that winter and spring sports would be able to hold their seasons. As with the Big 10, there's even talk of playing high school football in the spring.
But right now, it's not feasible.
Football players shouldn't be wearing facemasks on the field until they no longer need to wear them off it.
Better to stay in the dark for a few months than turn on the lights.