Could Wolf’s call on HS sports help reelect Trump?

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

It’s probably not Gov. Tom’s Wolf’s intention, but if his actions this week prevent fall high school sports, he may have unwittingly helped reelect President Donald Trump.

Before you lose your — well, you know — hear me out.

Generally speaking, I’ve been pretty consistent in my praise of Wolf’s actions regarding COVID-19. His aggressive closure this spring saved lives, despite the whining of many Republicans. His ability to resist nonsense demands to reopen early — as many other states did and now are swamped with cases and deaths — saved countless lives and exposed the profound moral failings of his opponents.

But, he has made a few missteps along the way. One was this week.

Wolf suggested that schools should not be able to field Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) sports teams this fall. In case the governor is wondering, he is the governor of Pennsylvania — a football-mad state.

Yes, I get the idea that bringing students together for sports represents a risk — albeit a much lower one than sharing an indoor classroom, which Wolf seems to be okay with — a number of districts in Chester County will reopen with at least some in-person instruction later this month.

The status of fall sports should be left to the districts and the PIAA — if both feel play is safe and enough distancing can be done. A lot of districts will say no — but having that decision made locally is probably wiser in this case.

A bigger problem — and this seems to be a recurring issue with Health Secretary Rachel Levine — is this recommendation is overly broad and vague. Additionally, it seems driven by a narrow vision, rather than seeing the entire situation. Does this include martial arts and gymnastics? What about the YMCA? There’s a slippery slope here and the reasoning is foggy and lacks due consideration (not for the first time) that hurts the overall credibility of what has been generally a measured and smart response to the virus.

Usually, I’m of the safer is better school of thought, but it’s clear from a growing understanding of how the virus transmits that it is more difficult for it to do so outside. By excluding much of the indoor portion of sports (yes, tough on weight rooms), it seems most outdoor fall sports can be played safely (varsity football will have to be played more like JV, without locker rooms and halftime meetings in opposing end zones, as an example). Based on the lack of major outbreaks where there were outdoor protests this summer — versus immediate outbreaks at indoor political events — it seems that enough reasonable precautions can be taken to make it safe.

Without question, attending in person class is more dangerous in many ways than outdoor sports, yet we see no “strong recommendation” on that. The science here seems to be giving way to knee-jerk reactionism.

So, to be clear, the policy and science of this is really shaky at best.

I think the big picture is being missed, too. Kids need some sort of outlet — sports really helps with that. Additionally, how many kids will miss out on the chance to get an athletic scholarship? This is some life-changing stuff for many kids that doesn’t seem to have been factored into this decision.

The politics?


As in, “Congratulations, Gov. Wolf and Dr. Levine, you just helped reelect Donald Trump as President.”

In the football-mad parts of the state — especially the southwest — this single decision could anger enough people who might not of voted, or would have voted for Joe Biden, to now vote for Trump out of anger. Yes, the margin of error in Pennsylvania is that small.

Maybe politics should have no role in this decision, but it seems like there was a complete lack of understanding of any of the big picture here. And I’ll ask this: in terms of overall health, is four more years of Trump more dangerous to the health of our youth than allowing kids to play sports outdoors?

After 160,000 deaths, many of which were needless, do we really have to answer that for you?


As noted above, school districts across Chester County are wrangling with whether to — or how to — reopen this fall for students, and not surprisingly, districts are taking very different approaches from staying virtual until November to opening fully.

Most districts fall somewhere in between with some mix of online and in person classes for students.

I don’t envy the districts or their Boards of Education in making these decisions — there’s no good choice. Kids need to be in school, to socially develop and learn best. Especially for younger students, hours of Zoom video don’t cut it educationally.

But, as we’ve seen in other locations — schools in Israel, the YMCA camp in Georgia — kids also are superspreaders. A report in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Pediatrics suggests kids can carry anywhere between 10 to 100 times the viral load of COVID-19 that adults carry, meaning while they may be less likely to get sick, they pose a greater chance to spread the virus to adults.

And despite some claims — sadly amplified of late in local published reports of school board meetings with uninformed or intentionally misleading resident comments — COVID-19 is MUCH more dangerous than the flu, even the 2018-17 that killed 61,000 in the U.S. Unlike that flu, which infected some 45 million, COVID-19 has infected 5 million (one tenth the number of the 2017-18 flu), yet killed more than 160,000 people, almost three times the number. An untold number who survive may have permanent lung, kidney or heart issues. Also, unlike that flu, COVID-19 can be transmitted by those without symptoms. That makes it harder to identify those infected and isolate them.

Like many local school boards and administrations, I’m not sure how you open schools safely. While it is likely that younger kids won’t get deathly sick (only a small percentage do), they will likely spread the virus to parents and staff. People will get sick and die.

Aside from the human toll — which is first and foremost, of course – schools that open run a major liability risk. If staff or students get infected, there will be litigation against the district. It is unclear whether liability insurance will cover such claims — meaning taxpayers will likely end up on the hook for any settlements if things go badly with the school reopening.

There’s no good choice here — only finding the least bad one. I have my fingers crossed that each district is able to make the right choice for their students and community.


As for right choices (or questionable ones), I will be on the road for the next week or so, driving to Nevada, before flying home. Short form: my daughter will need a car to student teach (she’s a music ed. major who has managed to get ahead of her class and will be a junior later this year), and we need to get her car to U. Nevada-Reno. It seemed like a great father-daughter trip back in the late spring/early summer, but now it’s more than a little scary.

We’ll be following the I-80 route — Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming (Idaho — for a quick run to Yellowstone, the only tourist thing we’ll attempt, staying outside) and northern Nevada. I suspect we’ll see a lot of different things, some good, some bad as we try to stay healthy along the way.

I’ll be documenting what I see in something like real time on Twitter (@mikemcganpa) and then be publishing a full on journal here when I get back home. Additionally, I’ll follow up with a quarantine journal, including attempts to get tested for COVID-19 when I’m back. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

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