My Turn: Masks don’t belong on the track

For the Monitor
Published: 4/11/2021 10:00:06 AM

I was a sophomore the first year Pembroke Academy had a track team. There was no track and very little equipment. At the time, I was starting down a path of alcohol and drug use and decided to try track because I thought it would be cool to throw a spear.

Track quickly became my life and thanks to the coaches who reinforced a solid work ethic and provided me opportunities to compete, I became a state champion and held the state discus record for quite some time. More importantly, it lead to being recruited by Brandeis University where I became an All American and a National Division III discus champion.

I was able to earn a degree that years later led me to my current job as a licensed clinical mental health counselor doing trauma recovery work as well as risk assessment in individuals with problematic behavioral issues.

I have worked with Brad Keyes and seen him coach. I have volunteered my time because I see in him the kind of coach that helped me achieve things I never imagined. He is completely right in confronting the NHIAA recommendation on wearing masks during races, which it appears schools are implementing without question.

I would offer the following structured risk assessment and mitigation thinking for consideration.

First, taking into account the science that indicates little if any risk of transmission outdoors, as well as the extremely low risk of adverse health outcomes for the virus in the middle and high school age group, it is difficult to discern what exactly mask wearing is supposed to protect anyone from. Science indicates much higher risk for school age youth and the flu, yet we have never insisted athletes wear masks for sports during flu season.

Second, anyone who has ever run seriously understands that track is extremely taxing. When I was a Spartan in the 80s, we would laugh that the quarter mile was the “puke race” because we knew we would throw up after it if we ran with everything we had. Medical professionals earlier in the pandemic stated that people should not wear masks while doing strenuous exercise. I doubt that anyone involved in this decision has considered the possible unintended negative outcomes for athletes forced to wear masks while competing.

Finally, setting aside medical and health considerations, I would ask what we are teaching our children through this? From a broader perspective, we are telling them that their achievements and their futures (that are built on those achievements) are less important than guarding against the slight possibility of contracting an illness that is highly unlikely to cause them any harm.

I can’t imagine what my life would be like now if it hadn’t been for track and field and the character lessons that I learned from my best coaches. I have a lot of respect for Brad teaching the lesson that sometimes you have to be willing to put yourself on the line to stand up to fear, oppressive policy and the people who are all to willing to bargain with other people’s futures and freedoms.


(Greg Steelman lives in Chichester).

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