DOVER – Delaware Military Academy sophomore Ashley Hughes stood in front of Delaware Legislative Hall Saturday to send a clear message to Gov. John Carney and other state officials that she and her fellow student-athletes want their sports back in the fall.
Hughes and about 100 student-athletes, their parents and supporters were part of a “Let Them Play Delaware” event meeting on The Green to air their feelings about the Delaware Interscholastic Athletics Association pushing all fall sports were back to early 2021. They will play between shortened winter and spring seasons.
“I’m speaking on behalf of the thousands of student-athletes in Delaware who deserve to have a fall sports season this fall,” Hughes said. “My question to Gov. Carney, the DIAA and the Board of Education where is your concern for us the students?
“You shut down our schools in March and canceled our spring sports season due to the spread of COVID and the many unknown factors about the virus. It is now the end of August. Doctors have a better understanding of the virus, and the data does not support delaying the fall sports season. In fact, the data supports having a fall sports season.”
Isolating students has increased mental health issues, anxiety and teen suicide, she said, which poses much more of a threat than COVID.
Linda Moffett, a grandmother from Newark, choked back tears as she talked about taking her grandson Joshua to the military academy to pick up books from school.
It’s easy to close schools and cancel seasons, Moffett said.
“Do you know how many kids are thriving on the extra hours that they can stay in school, are underprivileged, are going home to who knows what.” she said, “but they love those extra two or three hours that they get to stay and get to play a sport because the sports teams are their family?”
“You don’t get these years back,” said Red Lion Christian Academy football head coach and athletics director Ken Anderson.
He said Delaware athletic directors had a good plan to have fall sports begin practice in September, with games starting in October and the seasons going into December.
Anderson said schools had developed such things as QR codes and scanning documents to help keep players, and staff members safe. Transportation was another issue they focused on because some student-athletes would have a hard time getting to practice, he said.
Anderson and other ADs presented their plan to the DIAA board at its Aug. 6 meeting before it voted 15-0 to postpone fall sports.
“I don’t know if you listened to the meeting, but for me it really made me nauseous,” Anderson said. “If you listen to it, ‘Let’s refer back to 10-10, 10-8-4.’
“These are our kids. There was no empathy, no drive or mission there to get them back on the field, so they voted to kick it down the road.”
Jill Dietrich, whose son is a senior at Salesianum School, saw the DIAA Let Them Play petition on Facebook. As of last Saturday afternoon, more than 5,500 had signed it.
“We just want them to play,” Dietrich said. “We want them out of the house. They’ve been locked down since March 13, and we’re lucky because we (Salesianum) get to go back hybrid starting next week, so they will have interaction with students.”
Dietrich is concerned students going to school virtually will not get the interaction they would have in a face-to-face or hybrid option.
Her son wants to play volleyball in college.
“Our spring season was taken away from us, so he didn’t get have video and the looks from recruiters,” she said. “A lot of this is getting taken away from these kids. Division I and Division II have been targeting these kids, but kids who want to play Division III, these are the times they are looking at these kids.”
Kelly Boettcher, whose twins Lexi and Logan attend Caravel Academy, decided to start the Delaware HS Athletes Parent Group page on Facaebook three weeks ago for parents who didn’t think the DIAA ruling was acceptable.
She thought 50 to 100 people who join by the next morning. Within two days, more than 1,000 people were part of the group.
“Never did I think that I would be here in Dover two weeks later,” she said. “We just want the kids and parents to have the choice for what we think is best for our kids. If kids don’t want to play, they don’t have to play. We just want that choice.”