Kickapoo football players run drills during practice at Kickapoo High School on June 11, 2020. (Photo: Andrew Jansen/News-Leader)
College and high school sports teams began practice across southwest Missouri the last few weeks during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Universities, along with local high schools, have created plans to keep their athletes and coaches safe upon their return to competition. Local schools and districts have been working with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department for information and advice on how best to open.
Springfield-Greene County Health Director Clay Goddard was asked Thursday morning about programs returning to the fields and teams traveling in and out of the area to participate in competition.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Goddard said. “All you have to do is look at Major League Baseball to see that these are going to create significant challenges for us. We’re going to continue to work with our high school and with our college sports and with athletic directors and see that we mitigate it as best we can.
“It will be interesting to see what practices bring over the next several weeks.”
Major League Baseball, which tests its players routinely, has seen outbreaks among its teams including on the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins. Both teams have had a number of games postponed because of COVID-19 cases on their teams.
Locally, a member of the Glendale High football team tested positive for COVID-19 in July — which caused the district to ask its players and related staff members to self-isolate for 14 days and monitor symptoms.
Missouri State athletics has also reported more than 50 student-athletes have tested positive for the virus since testing began in late-May. The university hasn’t had to shut down any of its athletics programs because of an outbreak — like some others have had to across the country.
While a school like Missouri State is investing in testing for its student-athletes, testing is not a viable option for a district like Springfield Public Schools.
According to MSHSAA’s return to play guidelines, schools are to work with local health departments when someone tests positive for COVID-19 and figure out what decisions need to be made.
SPS is following MSHSAA’s guidelines for opening athletics and activities for the fall, is working with the local health department and is taking its own steps into mitigating risk.
Springfield Public Schools Athletics Director Josh Scott told the News-Leader on Wednesday that SPS athletics programs won’t travel outside of southwest Missouri unless it is to an Ozark Conference school — with the possible exception of Central High football.
“Our coaches are doing a great job,” Scott said after the first few days of practice. “We’re going to continue to push our way through the best that we can to follow everything that’s recommended.”
Goddard said Thursday morning the “inherent risks” depend on the sport. Contact sports such as football and soccer are at higher risk.
“We are going to continue to learn and this will, I’m sure, evolve and have some things that change almost on a daily basis,” Goddard said.
Even if they recover in the short-term, there is a growing concern that athletes who have contracted COVID-19 might face potentially greater long-term health effects.
Recent studies have shown an alarming number of cases of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, in people who previously tested positive for coronavirus but no longer have symptoms. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published results from a study of 100 patients who had recovered from COVID-19. Heart imaging showed “cardiac involvement” in 78 percent of the patients and 60 percent “ongoing myocardial inflammation” among the participants.
The uncertainty around myocarditis and COVID-19 reportedly played a factor in some NCAA conferences, including the Big Ten and Pac-12, postponing their fall seasons to the spring.
Left undiagnosed and untreated, myocarditis can cause heart damage and sudden cardiac arrest, which can be fatal. As a result, medical experts have urged cardiac screening for athletes returning to play after contracting the virus.
Springfield-Greene County Health Department director Clay Goddard gives an update on the coronavirus during a press conference on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Photo: Nathan Papes/Springfield News-Leader)
One MLB player lost his entire 2020 season after being diagnosed with myocarditis.
Goddard said Thursday that he did not have a lot of information on whether health systems in Springfield-Greene County are seeing myocarditis.
“It’s a real concern and we’re going to continue to collect all the data and all the relevant data that we can related to these health conditions,” Goddard said.
Missouri State football is continuing to practice before its lone scheduled date against Oklahoma. SPS, along with other MSHSAA teams across the state, are practicing in preparation for Week 1 football games beginning Aug. 28.
News-Leader reporter Claudette Riley and the USA Today Network contributed to this story
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at [email protected] or join the conversation on Twitter where his handle is @WyattWheeler_NL.