Parents believe they have to fight for fall sports

Smyrna students Zachary Cosme and Gabby Wilcox hold signs during Saturday’s rally supporting Delaware high school sports to resume this fall. Around 100 attended at Legislative Mall in Dover. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Wendy McVicker isn’t interested in taking chances with her son’s health, of course.

But she doesn’t see playing sports as being especially risky — pandemic or not.

That’s why the mother of Sussex Central High athlete Sklyer McVicker said she wouldn’t have a problem signing a medical waiver if that’s what it took to get him back on the field this fall.

“I will be the first one in line to sign the waiver for my son to be able to play — and to be able to accomplish his goals that he has set for himself,” said McVicker.

Dickinson Middle School student Winston Busong holds a sign.

McVicker isn’t alone in her willingness to do whatever it takes to get her high school student-athlete playing sports again this fall.

Over 3,300 people have joined a Facebook group in an effort to overturn a Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association decision to not have scholastic sports start until December.

On Saturday morning, that group organized a rally in front of Legislative Hall in an attempt to get its message out. The small gathering held up signs and listened to students and parents talk about why it was important to have high school athletics back this fall.

The mantra of the group is ‘Let them play.’

Like most issues involving COVID-19, though, the situation is complicated.

Officials have said they don’t think it would be right to bring students back for practices and games before they’re back in school for academics.

And while younger people are believed to be at lower risk of being harmed by COVID-19, they can still spread the disease to people in the community.

Students and parents hold signs during Saturday’s rally for the fall return of Delaware high school sports at Legislative Mall.

The main message from the parents, though, is that they believe the benefits of athletics for their children outweigh the risks. They’ve already been through a spring season when high school sports were canceled.

Kristie Boyle, a parent of two Sussex Central student-athletes, said she saw “a major decline” in her son’s “mental health, the way he treated people,” in the spring.

“His whole world turned upside down,” said Boyle. “But as soon as he was able to step back on the field (in travel ball), he was back to where he was last year. He was just a better person.”

Jennifer Saltarelli saw her daughter, Jocelyn, have her senior girls’ lacrosse season wiped out last spring. Now she’s afraid that the same thing could happen to her son, Anthony, who plays boys’ lacrosse for the Caesar Rodney Riders.

“It was a disappointment so much not to get to see her play that last year and have those experiences as a senior,” said Saltarelli. “For Anthony, this is going to be an exceptionally big year. It’s a disappointment to the parents as well.

“I do feel, at this point, we know enough to keep them safe and take the right precautions to allow them to play,” she said about the virus.

Students and parents hold signs during the national anthem.

As things stand now, all three sports seasons are slated to be played. Starting in December, shortened schedules would be played in winter, fall and then spring sports, ending in June.

Saltarelli, who says her son was also hoping to play football this year, worries about the seasons being played so close to each other. The parents’ group is hoping to have fall sports start in October.

“What I think some of the kids are upset about is they might have to choose one thing over another,” said Saltarelli.

“It’s nice for them to have that little bit of a breather (between seasons),” said McVicker. “We’re hoping and praying that somebody hears us and somebody understands.”

McVicker, who had another son, Travon, graduate last year, said playing football is particularly important to her son, Skyler.
“He’s waited for his senior year his entire life, with what he’s accomplished and being a leader out on the field,” she said. “He lives, breathes, eats and sweats football 24-7. He has been passionate about it since he was three years old. I’m just not quite sure, if he doesn’t get to play, what we’re going to be able to do to fill that void for him.”

The parents also point out that many of their children have been playing travel sports all summer with seemingly no health issues.

On paper, the main difference between parents and state officials is when the sports year will begin. But some parents are convinced that, if they don’t get involved, sports won’t be played all year.

“When it comes right down to it, they’re going to basically say, ‘No, we still can’t do it six months into school,’” said Kelly Klerlein Boettcher, the Caravel parent who started the Facebook group. “‘It’s January and now we don’t want to do it.’ … They’ll cancel everything because it’s the easy way out. We’re not going to let that happen.”