Sports parents want voices heard by state board

The state Department of Education is slated to hear discussion this morning on when whether high school fall sports should be moved until later in the school year. Delaware State News file photos

The idea only occurred to Kelly Klerlein Boettcher on Sunday morning.

The mother of a pair of senior high school student-athletes, she didn’t like the fact that they weren’t going to get to play their fall seasons — at least not in the fall.

So she started a Facebook group.

“I was lying in bed and I was thinking, ‘There’s got to be other parents that think like me,’” said Boettcher. “I just put a feeler out and, within 24 hours, I had close to 1,000 people. It’s just been crazy.”

By Thursday afternoon, membership in the ‘Delaware HS Athletes Parent Group’ was up to 2,300 with over 4,300 people having signed a petition with the headline ‘DIAA Let them play this fall.’

That question may finally get fully decided today when the state Board of Education discusses the DIAA’s proposal to delay the fall sports season until late winter in 2021. A link to the virtual meeting, which starts at 8:30 a.m., can be found at https://publicmeetings.delaware.gov.

The ID number for the meeting is 66466.

Last week, the Delaware International Athletic Association voted to play the entire high school schedule for the coming school year in condensed seasons starting in early January due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move requires the state Board of Education to make a change in regulation.

The purpose of today’s meeting is for both board discussion and to hear public comment. The board is then slated to take action on the proposal.

State board members can ask questions about the proposed regulations but they cannot change the proposal presented to them.

Parents from Boettcher’s group have signed up to speak at today’s meeting.

A parents’ Facebook group has attracted over 2,300 members this week as they look to get fall sports played later in the fall.

The group’s petition was written by member Lisa Hughes. Among other points, the petition says that:

“The decision to deny our student athletes the ability to compete this fall poses greater risks to them than Covid-19. Our students’ mental health is not being taken into consideration. Depression, anxiety, and suicide have all risen at an alarming rate in teenagers since March. Sports and physical activity serve as natural ways to negate depression and anxiety in our teens. Not allowing our student athletes to compete this fall is only going to increase mental health issues.”

The petition also says it believes that the available science supports the idea that sports can be played safely in Delaware.

After having spring sports canceled, Boettcher said parents are worried that the fall sports season could eventually be canceled, too. She said there are concerns about late-winter weather impacting fall sports.

“I think it would be safer to do it now (in October and November) than it would be waiting for February and March,” said Boettcher. “A lot parents’ fear I hear is that they’re going to take it completely away like they did with spring sports.”

Boettcher, who lives just over the state line near Elkton, Md., said the Facebook group seems to have attracted parents from around the state. She’s been posting photos of student-athletes that parents have sent in.

“We have people from all over the place,” said Boettcher. “I don’t think it’s just New Castle County or it’s not just private schools.

“We’re not in this for ourselves, we’re in this for our kids,” she added. “I am just trying to support my kids in what they want to do — which is play. … We want them to play. We want to see our happy, healthy kids on the field, doing what they love.”

Among the officials expected to take part in today’s virtual meeting are DIAA executive director Donna Polk and Sussex Central principal Bradley Layfield, the DIAA board chairperson. Also slated to be on hand are Laura Makransky, the Deputy Attorney General, and Michael Rodriguez, Associate Secretary, Student Support, for DDOE.

Veteran DIAA board member Kevin Fitzgerald, the Caesar Rodney superintendent, said he and other board members have received emails from concerned parents.

“We hear them,” he said. “We certainly understand what they’re saying and appreciate it. I don’t think they’re going to find better cheerleaders for student and school-based athletics than anyone on the DIAA board. I think everybody agrees that school-based athletics are an important part of providing for the whole child.”

“It wasn’t that we didn’t feel that sports couldn’t be played at this point,” said DIAA board member Dr. Bradley Bley. “It was more of a logistical reason. The superintendents and principals didn’t feel that they had the resources to handle all the changes that are coming into place right now.”

Bley added that it would be difficult to “allow sports when a lot of schools are going to be going six weeks without classes anyway.”