By Judson Faulconer ’21
The COVID-19 pandemic has put an end to all sports, not only for now, but for many high school seniors, forever. Senior year is the last possible chance for high school athletes to get a scholarship offer, and unless they are outstanding athletes, many seniors won’t have any offers at all before their final season. The NCAA is offering all athletes, including underclassmen who missed a season, an extra year of eligibility. Yes, many of these athletes are trying to take their talents to the professional level to make a living off of their sport. But aren’t high schoolers trying to take their talents to the next level as well? Many high school athletes use their sport to try to get into a better school than they would normally be able to get into. Taking this season away from them could be denying them a life-changing opportunity.
High school seniors deserve just as much opportunity to return because of how much they develop over time. For Example, look at Mamadi Diakite, a basketball player for the University of Virginia. When he arrived at Blue Ridge School, soccer was his main sport. By his senior year, he was being recruited by UVA and then went on to win a National Championship. While this is an extreme example because he came from Guinea, a place where soccer holds priority over basketball, when Mamadi was given the right resources, he was able to blossom into a player who will likely get drafted into the NBA this summer. High school is where athletes build their game from the bottom up, a process that allows them to fine-tune their game in college.
The NCAA has allowed only spring sport athletes to return for another season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and even then, the rules are very blurry. The uncertainty is because the specific rules of allowing athletes to come back is completely dependent on each individual college. Many colleges won’t be able to allow their students to come back for another year strictly because of financial reasons, but most athletes will at least have the option, even if that does mean coughing up a whole year’s tuition. However, there has been no talk of high school seniors being able to return for another season, even though this season could be just as impactful for them as it is for their collegiate counterparts.
It is worth noting that there are many differences between allowing college athletes and high school seniors the opportunity to return another year. Right off the bat, college sports bring in money for their colleges, at least the main ones, but high school sports only eat up money for them. For boarding schools, it would also be much harder because they have smaller student bodies and are often at enrollment capacity. Furthermore, it could present many logistical problems; for example, where would the returning athletes live? Colleges are much larger, and students have the option to live off-campus, so returning students would hardly affect the school’s housing situation. Boarding schools like Woodberry wouldn’t have the same luxury.
On the other hand, allowing high school seniors to return is very similar because both provide higher opportunities for the athlete. For college athletes, that means potentially going professional and for high school athletes, that means going to college as a student-athlete. High school athletes who know they would never be able to go professional can still use athletics to get into a higher tier school than they would not normally be able to get into. There’s also the emotional side to consider. Both high school and college athletes are losing out on a season of memories this spring.
Benton Copeland ‘20 and I talked about how this pandemic would affect high school sports. “If an athlete really wants to make it to the next level, I could see why they would value the extra season.” However, Benton doesn’t necessarily agree that high schools should allow athletes back. “I think it makes sense in college, as many athletes are trying to make a career out of their respective sports. For high schoolers, the implications of extending eligibility could impact the college process.” Regardless, this was the last chance for many seniors to ever play on a baseball team again, and it has been stripped from them. “Last year, playing on the team gave me a chance to compete alongside some of the best teammates I’ve ever had, and this year, I was anticipating an even better season. I’m certainly going to miss playing close games and getting loud in the dugout with the team. I have had a great two years at Woodberry, and I was really looking forward to making a playoff run this year.”