Longtime radio announcer Brian Gallagher brought the four activities directors of the Grand Island high schools together on KRGI Radio Friday morning — electronically at least.
For about 20 minutes, they discussed the COVID-19 outbreak and its effects on the schools.
The Nebraska Schools Activities Association announced Thursday that all spring sports and extracurricular activities have been canceled.
All four activities directors — Grand Island Senior High’s Cindy Wells, Northwest's Mike Sorensen, Grand Island Central Catholic’s Dick Ross and Heartland Lutheran’s Tim Leach — agreed that it was inevitable.
This came after the Governor Pete Ricketts announced that all schools would be closed at least through the end of May.
“I think the NSAA tried to hold off as long as they could, but when you have the direction from the Nebraska Department of Ed and the governor, it really doesn’t leave you much choice to keep everybody safe,” Wells said. “That’s what we need to concentrate on right now with the safety of our community.”
Ross said he talked to NSAA executive director Jay Bellar at the boys state basketball tournament. The Crusaders advanced to the Class C-2 state championship game on March 14 before falling to BRLD.
The tournament was played without fans, except for a limited number of family members.
“Every day we were wondering if we were going to play,” Ross said. “I asked (Bellar) about the spring and he said once the State Department of Ed or the governor comes in, spring sports were probably going to get called off. So I was just waiting for that announcement from them.”
So now the activities directors are trying to plan for the summer and for next year’s high school sports schedules. At this point, no one really knows. what’s going to happen.
“I know we’ve all sat and talked about the future holds,” Sorensen said. “What is summer going to look like, what is the fall going to look like, and I don’t know if we can answer that, to be honest with you, because I don’t know how long this will last.
“We don’t know what the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) is going to say as far as when can we go back to having gatherings of over 250 people, which means, then we can have some weights, we can have events, we can do all that stuff right now we have no idea.”
The schools are normally gearing up for their summer camps at this time of year, but those are on hold as the community works through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Right now, Wells said they don’t have any real answers to those questions.
“When we get the phone calls, we just tell people we will continue to communicate weekly through the Grand Island Public Schools communication page, and we’ll make a decision when they tell us,” Wells said. “Some are talking that this could go into the fall.”
Leach said Heartland Lutheran has pushed all camps back into July at the earliest.
“I fully expect in June to still be in the shutdown, and honestly I kind of feel at this point the July will be the same way,” he said. “But we’re going to hold on to hope because we know that these sports and activities are an outlet our kids need as part of their overall education.”
The activities directors are also attempting to put together their schedules for the winter sports next school year as well. They all have sort of a guideline of who they play when, and it’s not easy to change their schedule all at once.
Sorsensen said it’s hard enough in a normal situation to reschedule an event postponed because of weather.
“We do not have a lot of wiggle room, so if you miss an activity, chances are it is not going to be postponed per se, it’s going to be canceled, just because you have no place to move it,” Sorensen said. “And that’s the problem.
“Like right now, we’re dealing with all of our spring sports and our kids’ activities. Seniors especially, they miss out. So now you’re looking at next year’s seniors. Are they going to miss out on fall activities, winter activities. We don’t know.”
Leach said other activities besides sports are being affected too. Like the marching bands who work all summer in preparation for marching at the games and the Harvest of Harmony parade on the first Saturday of October.
“What do we know about whether that’ll be lifted by then?” Leach said. “And in the community impact and all the things that our kids do through their service projects, through their sports team serving the community. There’s a lot more than just the Friday night football game or the Thursday night volleyball game that we’re talking about.”
There is also a financial impact from the loss of athletic events, particularly if the shutdown extends into the fall sports.
Ross said GICC is looking at taking some of its money from the booster club and the fine arts department to help support the school.
“I know that if you don’t have your fall sports, that’s kind of our big income too is our football and volleyball games,” Ross said. “So it can hurt our budgets. You know you’re going to have to look at that. I kind of looked at my budget today, just kind of looking at it for next year already. You know it can take a big effect.”
Leach says as the smallest school in Grand Island, every dollar is that much more important for Heartland Lutheran. Budget cuts can be a big problem as they head into the 2020-21 year.
“Those things go into effect, of course you’re freezing new purchases for athletics and activities and so you’re already cheating next year’s classes because you’re having to plan ahead for that money not being there,” Leach said. “And they don’t get those new things that, of course, boost the program and boost morale and can help as well,”
Leach said if there is a positive from all this, it’s in the way the students have reacted to it all. He said they are more concerned with how they can help their community than the fact that they’re missing out on part of their athletic career.
“I think that’s been a powerful statement is that all of the schools and their staffs and their kids are focused on how do we help Grand Island and how do we help each other out and not necessarily even though they’re hurting because they’ve missed these things personally,” Leach said. “And they’re not projecting that out. They’re using it to figure out how they can help the community, and I think that makes a huge statement about who our school leaders are.”
Those leaders, including the four activities directors, are negotiating a new situation that schools have never faced before.
Sorensen said he recently had that conversation with his wife.
“A couple weeks ago I said, ‘You know when it’s all said and done, yes, it’s important that we educate our kids in this time period, but more importantly, we’re writing the playbook for the next pandemic that takes place, whether it’s within our generation, or the next,”’ he said.