Local school districts weigh pros and cons of letting senior athletes stay to play after they graduate
MARYLAND – For some students in Maryland, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on high school sports has been devastating. “Kids are probably seeing the most lost they’ve ever seen. Without having sports to give them a drive and keep them motivated, it’s been an uphill battle trying to keep kids in the mindset of trying to further their academics and also further their sports,” said owner of One More Rep JD Cherry.
Cherry says he thinks there’s pros and cons to a pair of bills introduced in the Maryland General Assembly. “If that’s going to help them get to the next level then that may be beneficial. If it’s something where I just graduated and I haven’t been doing anything and I wanted to play again, that’s going to be kind of questionable,” said Cherry.
That’s why lawmakers are introducing HB0817 and SB0759. The bills would would extend playing time for some of those students. But Supervisor of Athletics for Dorchester County Public Schools Dr. Derek Sabedra says it might not be the best game plan. “Their hearts are in the right place, but you can’t recreate a year. I just don’t think it’s a good idea socially, ethically, and psychologically,” said Dr. Sabedra.
The bills would allow public high school athletes who were seniors during the 2020-2021 school year to play the year after they graduate. Athletic Director for North Dorchester High School Dave Morrissette says the time and experience lost for those athletes amid the COVID-19 pandemic is unfortunate. But he says the bills could hurt younger athletes. “We’re going to end up with five classes competing for a varsity position instead of four classes. It’s going to take away opportunities for some of the younger ones especially,” said Morrissette.
At Somerset County Public School District, officials raised similar concerns. Plus, Public Relations Specialist Victoria Miele says she’s worried about safety. She says those safety concerns include worrying about background checks and fingerprinting for those athletes. “If we have 19-year-old athletes returning to us and competing in the same space as 14-year-old athletes, that could present a real safety risk,” said Miele.
Miele adds school districts will have to consider the cost of allowing more players on the field. She also says she’s concerned about the how schools will keep those older players in check. “There is no accountability with those students to the school system with regards to their grades or attendance,” said Miele.
On top of this, Head Football Coach at Cambridge-South Dorchester High School Gaven Parker says another issue is keeping younger players engaged. He says says athletic involvement plummeted by as much as 30 percent over the past year. “If we’re already struggling to get these tenth and ninth graders engaged in athletics, and if we’re asking them to compete against a 19-year-old who’s been in high school for five years, good luck,” said Parker.
Meanwhile at the State House, local leaders tell 47ABC they’re not sure yet if they’ll support the bill. Delegate Wayne Hartman says on one hand, some local school districts have reported students intentionally failing the 2020-2021 school year, so they could stick around and play sports another year. “The opportunity for a scholarship for a junior in high school could be the difference between going to college or not. So, it’s certainly a big deal for some,” said Del. Hartman.
On the other hand, Del. Hartman says he has some questions before he makes a decision. “How will it impact the Worcester and Wicomico School boards? And what is the recognition of this in other states and on a larger scale?” said Del. Hartman.
In addition to those questions, Del. Hartman says he’s going to be reaching out to schools in his district – to see where they stand on the issue. He says he thinks there’s a lot more work that needs to be done before the bills become law. “I really need to do some more work on it in terms of talking to my local school boards in Worcester and Wicomico to get their opinion on it,” said Del. Hartman.