Last week we made the difficult decision as a school to cancel high school and middle school football this fall. While this decision was not a surprise to many, it was likely a disappointment to everyone. I want to offer a full explanation of why we made this decision.

First, there is no way to play football and comply with the health and safety recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, or the Mecklenburg County Department of Health. As a school, we have chosen to follow the advice of scientists and public health experts whose job is to protect the common good by preventing the spread of diseases. In the opinion of doctors and researchers, the safety protocols we have in place for this school year give us the best chance of staying at school for in-person instruction on our campus. It makes little sense to work diligently to follow safety guidelines during the day and then ignore them to play a sport each afternoon.

Second, the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association (NCISAA) categorizes football as the only high-risk sport played during the fall. Football is typically the largest fall sport in terms of participants and is by far the most logistically complex. Managing locker room and bathroom usage, transportation, team meetings, pre-game meals, access to our trainer, and the other logistics of the sport while maintaining physical distancing is not possible. Football also places our students in close contact with students at other schools that are not implementing the same safety protocols we are, adding to the cumulative risk for everyone involved.

Third, were a player to test positive for COVID-19, in all likelihood much of the team would be considered a close contact by health department standards and need to be quarantined and tested. An outbreak on the team, such as we have seen among NFL and college teams in recent weeks, could force us to close the high school and/or the middle school for a period of time. Because we have so many siblings at SouthLake, a high school closure would likely impact the middle school and vice versa. Many students at SouthLake have parents who teach here so closures would also impact our faculty. As we learned the first week of this fall, a positive case of COVID-19 can have far-reaching ripple effects across our school.

Fourth, the risk calculations we have to make about football does not support us playing the sport at this time. There are risks associated with everything we do now. Live instruction carries risks, but so does online instruction. When we make decisions of any kind, we balance the risks and ask ourselves which risks are worth taking and which ones are not. In our estimation, the risks of live instruction on campus were lower than the risks of keeping students at home. That risk calculation was based on data about the number of COVID-19 cases in our area, coupled with what we know about the educational and psychological effects of long-term social isolation. We did a similar cost calculation as we considered football this fall. The risks of playing are great, significantly greater than other sports, and those risks are not necessary for us to take. I acknowledge that other sports pose some risks too, but the risks are lower on average, the safety logistics easier to manage, and the implications of a positive COVID-19 test less severe.

Finally, let me say that I was hoping the NCISAA would reach this conclusion about football itself. Making this decision in unison with other schools would have been preferable to us having to make the decision alone. It has become clear to me, however, that even though a significant number of school leaders in our association have similar concerns about football, none have been willing to step forward, choosing instead to string students and their families along with the hope of a normal season. Increasingly I felt uncomfortable with this course of action. As we fought to keep our own school open in week one, I realized it is time for me to lead and to level with our young men and their families about the facts. The facts show that apart from a significant medical breakthrough, we cannot safely play football this fall.

On a personal note, let me say that of all the things the pandemic has taken from us as a school, losing the opportunity to see our students compete in sports is among the most painful. For years now, my fall Friday nights have been spent watching our students compete and cheer. Honestly, I miss that more than I do NCAA or NFL football, and I know many of you parents feel the same. But I also know that even had we played it would not have been the same. The NCISAA has wisely banned spectators from attending any athletic competitions this fall, so I will not see our students compete in person in any sport for the remainder of 2020. I do not like any of this, but I believe our efforts and sacrifices give us the best chance to keep school open for as long as possible for as many as possible. This too shall pass, and we will be under the lights on Friday nights once again.

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