Area schools discussing fall sports
For the first time in living memory, the Navajo Nation has gone a year without having any sports because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, a few schools are talking about a potential fall sports season and even fewer deciding to train for it.
One such school that is openly discussing its training is Window Rock High, which officials announced earlier in June on Facebook. As they train the school is making certain that both its staff and students are safe.
The participating athletes are to wear masks, to social distance from one another, and temperatures are to be checked and equipment in each separate location are to be sanitized.
Currently, schools are training its football, basketball, baseball, cross-country and volleyball teams. It is also using a new training schedule where students can train for different sports during different times of the day.
Athletic Director Ryan Dodson assures that kids’ safety is their first priority as they try to provide their students with different options this summer.
“The whole purpose of that is to present options to students instead of limitations and scheduling all of the practices at the same time,” Dodson said. “My athletic compartment is coming at this in a way that is collective and very collaborative because these athletes haven’t been doing anything for a whole year so we want to offer them an opportunity if we could without limiting them and saying no you can’t do that or you can only do one sport.”
Dodson commends his coaching staff for taking time out of their summer to train the student athletes, displaying their dedication to the students as Dodson puts it.
The decision to have training is to prepare the student athletes for a potential fall season. Although it hasn’t been confirmed if that there will be in-person classes this year, or a sports season, it is looking likely with the wide distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and a low level of infection in certain areas.
One of the biggest arguments for there being training and potential in-class school is for the sake of the students’ well-being. There are concerns that the pandemic has greatly affected kids’ mental health as they deal with both the crisis and being isolated from friends.
“I feel like that’s one area that has justified our roll out of athletics and providing a safe space for students to come and provide them with an environment that allows them a sense of normalcy, routine and structure,” Dodson said when asked about mental health.
“So, it’s been very fun, very positive I think for me personally,” Dodson said. “Just from my observation when I ask the student athletes how they are feeling a lot of them are just excited to be out and social with their friends and to get their heart rates up and to be physically active. I think they are ecstatic about that and my coaches as well.
CDC safety protocols
Dodson also assures that they are following all the safety protocols set up by the AIA and the CDC.
“I feel like as athletic directors we take the good with the bad and I can attest we are our biggest critiques as athletic directors so when it comes to game operations or sports management, we definitely run every case and scenario,” Dodson said.
Dodson also talked about how chaotic it is being an athletic director now. Before the pandemic, schools would plan sport events a year or two in advance. Now they’re working and changing plans almost month by month. Constantly changing plans to stay ahead of the virus.
The decision to reopen the facilities were made in February of this year as the Window Rock school board discussed the negative effect isolation is having on the kids. Although no other school is openly discussing a reopening for schools, Dodson knows they’re being discussed in different schools.
This past year St. Michael Indian School was the only institute in the Navajo Nation to have participated in sports last year thanks to their status as a private school.
All of their games took place off the Navajo Nation. For both their basketball and softball seasons they were short and limited, but it gave them experience in playing amid the pandemic. They were one of the few teams whose students wore masks while playing games, something Window Rock is planning to do as well.
Signal to reopen schools
Monument Valley High school has also opened its facility for its coaches and athletes to use if they so choose to. Superintendent Lemual Adson said that all members of the school board voted in favor of having the facility reopen for the coaches to use. He couldn’t say which sport was being practiced but assures that the coaches and all school staff is learning from approved material by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to lessen the risk of contracting the virus.
Adson said the school board discussed opening school facilities and discussed the negative effect of students being kept in lockdown and how sports could mitigate it.
They also discussed the safety measures and protocols that would be followed to maintain student and staff safety. They also considered the facts from their local community service unit that reported the low rate of COVID infection in the area as well as the number of vaccinated students.
“I would not have put this in front of the board without hearing from the coaches, and they only see benefit in what we are doing,” Adson said. “Being the superintendent, athletics is one component in a whole district. But I don’t see any negative coming out of what we are doing. I can only see positives for the students, school district, and the community.”
Keeping the students safe is the No. 1 priority for the schools as they contemplate reopening. Both Dodson and Adson assured they’re monitoring the situation and will respond to any sudden changes in the numbers.
Although COVID infections are low, the pandemic isn’t over. But Dodson expresses how they still wished to help the students in whatever way possible.
“We are looking for those cost-effective ways to help our students beyond high school and so I feel like that has always been our unspoken objective or goal,” Dodson added, “but here in (Wind Rock High School) we’re putting that in the forefront of supporting student athletes beyond high school and future success.”