Track Troubles

It’s not often that Pembroke Academy in New Hampshire makes headlines. In fact, most of the country probably couldn’t point to New Hampshire on a map. Which is sickening, but a topic for another day.


If you haven’t seen it, Pembroke Academy’s Track and Field coach, Bradley Keyes, has been fired for refusing to require his athletes to wear masks during practice. Keyes, who has been the coach for a number of years, cited health concerns for refusing to follow the mask mandate. Yesterday on the Gerry Callahan Podcast, Keyes said, “who knows what the long term effects of breathing through a cloth while running will be.”


Keyes also wrote a letter to his athletic director saying that either lift the mandate or fire him. The AD opted to fire him.


This becomes the first in what will surely be a long list of coaches and athletes that refuse to wear masks during practice and competition. It is sure to become an incredibly controversial issue in schools all across those states that require them.


Do I think masks during sporting events is a good idea? No, I really don’t. All of my education in anatomy and physiology of exercise says that it is horrible. The data surrounding masks in general is suspect and has been highly politicized. Which means it is hard to tell what’s real and what’s political jockeying. But covering both of the ways that oxygen enters and carbon dioxide exits the body with a cloth mask during exercise is just nonsensical from an athletic performance perspective.


Don’t take this as some anti-mask rant. The idea of wearing a mask to prevent the spread of a very communicable disease makes sense. Is it the solution to the problem? Absolutely not. But covering the major spots the germs come in and out makes some kind sense. The insane reactions of people who start verbally attacking those who aren’t wearing a mask, calling them “potential murderers” and “reckless” are overblown.


Sometimes in life, like the experts say, it is possible to separate enough that a mask is otherwise useless. And like coach Keyes said, a mask is dangerous during intense exercise.


Of all sports, track and field is incredibly easy to separate athletes so masks wouldn’t be even close to necessary.


A track itself contains roughly 4-6 lanes that runners can compete in. Each lane is roughly a meter wide. That’s 3.3 feet for those who don’t understand the metric system. So, in every race, it would be quite easy to just leave two lanes between each runner. If my math is correct, that is 6.6 feet. Which is well over the “recommended” distance between unmasked folks. Seems easy right?


What about field events you may ask? Well, as a former middle school track coach, I can tell you that this is simpler. Typically for all of the throwing events, athletes use their own shot put, discus, javelin, etc. So that solves itself. And take it from me, it is wise to stand more than 6 feet away from an amateur athlete throwing something. I once took a discus right in ribs from a 7th grader.


Jumping events are even easier. There is only one person going at a time anyway, so that one isn’t even worth discussing. As for those with mats, wipe the mat after each athlete hits it? Tedious yes, but not too bad.


How hard was that? Not hard at all.


One of the more interesting things Bradley Keyes said in his interview on Callahan’s podcast was that every sport is required to have masks. Even those where players never come in any contact with others. The more obnoxious that I heard was the requirement for tennis players to wear masks. That is absurd. The players never even come close to each other and very briefly touch the ball with their hands. Craziness.


It all comes down to how people feel. The power of suggestion is incredible. We all do things that make us feel better about something. Whether they actually do anything is another discussion. The mask mandates during sports are just that. It makes the parents and those who worry at least feel better about having the kids play. Which is more important than some squabble about masks.


And let’s not forget that kids are the age group least at risk from serious illness due to Covid.


Most of these kids have been cooped up for the better part of the year. Some haven’t even been to school for the entirety of that year. These kids need activity. We are starting to see the results of this in the rise of teen mental illness and obesity rates rising.


So I urge those with the power to let the kids play sports not to fall for the panic. These folks need to take a look at what is really happening to kids. They need to look at the dangers of breathing in nothing but a cloth mask during a 400m dash. And they need to use a bit of common sense and make these sports as close to normal as possible to keep kids outside and active. Or the results will be devastating.

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