Bringing School and Athletics Back During COVID-19: Was It Worth the Risk?


Shaker Girls Varsity Field Hockey

It’s November, which means that most schools across the country are back to business after summer vacation. During any other year, we’d find ourselves easing back into the routine of the back-to-school craziness — signing up for extracurricular activities at the club fair, jumping back into our hectic fall sports’ seasons, and finalizing plans with friends for the homecoming football game and dance.

But ever since March, the traditions we took for granted year after year have been left in limbo. Schools shut down and the spring sports season was canceled nearly everywhere. Seniors graduating from high school and college lost their proms, graduations, and innumerable final memories with their classmates. We’ve been experiencing a public health crisis, the largest and most devastating one of the century, and we are still in the midst of it. 

So when it came around to August, when we all came to understand that this was going to be our “new normal,” it was time to see how we could bring back school and sports while maintaining a safe environment for all those involved.

Over the summer, the North Colonie Central School District held many Parent Advisory Council meetings as a means of communicating reopening plans to families. The district website was well maintained and filled with frequently asked questions and answers that helped guide many through the process of deciding between a remote and hybrid model for their children’s education. My parents fully trusted the district after seeing the well laid-out safety measures being put in place, and ultimately left the choice entirely to my younger brother and I. It took approximately two seconds for both of us to immediately opt-in for hybrid in-person learning, a model that provides students nearly four hours of instructional time in school every other day. 

As a senior at Shaker High School this fall, I will undoubtedly say that I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities our district accommodated for in-person education and the continuing of fall sports this year. Getting the chance to see my friends and teachers after such a long period of endless Zoom meetings has been incredible and I am so appreciative of every second of it.

The Suburban Council’s decision to provide for low to moderate-risk fall sports this year was also one that I was extremely enthusiastic about. An opportunity to play with teammates, stay physically fit, and work hard to compete for championships, field hockey has been an integral part of my life since seventh grade. While sectionals have been canceled across the Suburban Council for this fall, the chance to play my sixth and final season with my team this fall is one that I am immensely thankful for. 

To get some more thoughts on bringing back sports during the pandemic, I interviewed Shaker seniors Ethan Andrews and Istan Slamet. They both play for the varsity boys soccer team, and having been friends with them both for a long time, I knew that they would provide a unique and honest perspective on how their fall season has been going so far. 

Ethan shared that he was glad to be playing, while also listing off a series of different COVID precautions that the soccer team has been taking, including having to always wear masks, wipe down balls with disinfectant, and avoiding hand contact with the ball as much as possible. He described the risk he feels as similar to the everyday task of walking down the school hallways, and that he has yet to feel uncomfortable or unsafe while playing.

Istan also shared a sense of gratefulness for the season. “Over the summer, there was lots of talk about whether or not the season would even happen so it’s really great to be able to play and practice,” he said. But he still acknowledges the risks. “There is a good amount of physical contact in soccer and there have been a couple scares where people came close to the virus. But the rules that the state and league put up, as annoying as they can be, help out,” Istan stated.

So, even with a raging pandemic affecting millions of people across the globe, was the risk of reopening schools and allowing for certain athletic programs to occur a worthwhile decision? I’d answer with a resounding yes, and I think many of my peers would say the same. If done in a careful and controlled manner, like how it was done at Shaker, students are able to return to at least some sense of normalcy after a chaotic spring and summer. 

Of course, we all still need to do our part in ensuring that we are able to continue on this trajectory, so masks and social distancing still need to remain a major part of our day-to-day lives. If we do so, we can continue to slowly get back some of those traditions that we cherish so much, even if they are in a modified COVID-19 format.