Clay County students, parents push for fall sports after health officials’ guidance

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LIBERTY, Mo. — The choice is obvious to some families in the Northland.

Friday morning, protesters gathered outside Clay County’s Public Health Center on Haines Drive, demanding that health officials allow fall sports for their children.

Parents who gathered for that protest oppose the department’s recommendation, which was made with guidance from the Missouri State High School Activities Association, to play fall sports in the spring months.

Play the games this fall: That message from families Friday was loud and clear, as they aim to show county health leaders moving fall sports such as football, soccer and softball to the spring is a bad plan.

Families representing five public school districts, as well as several private schools, came to protest.

“Let them play! Let them play!” they chanted outside the health department’s front door.

An online petition in support of permitting fall sports has turned up, too. In less than 24 hours, it’s gathered thousands of signatures.

Tiffany Kirkland, whose daughter plays varsity sports at Kearney High School, helped organize the protest. Kirkland said she believes a fall without sports for young people is a bad plan.

“Sports define our family in a lot of ways. It brings our family joy. I worry about our kids just sitting at home and not being able to interact with their people,” Kirkland said.

She and others point to examples set during summer baseball and softball tournaments, where social distancing and equipment sanitizing were used extensively, as proof team sports can be played without spreading the virus.

“If you play sports, you take inherent risks. Anytime my kids step on their field, he may not come off it. I know that. The benefits outweigh the risks, and they outweigh the risks this time too,” said Vanessa Lincoln, another Kearney parent.

Just across the state line, public health leaders in Wyandotte County voted to prohibit fall sports and marching band events, a vote meant to fight COVID-19’s spread.

Athletes who gathered with their families at Friday’s protest mentioned benefits toward an individual’s mental health as another good reason for continuing with a fall schedule.

“It’s hard for me to think about not having my senior season, and not being able to play. It’s important for our mental health. I feel like softball is just a getaway from the real world. It helps me,” said Mikaela Carr, a softball pitcher from Smithville High School.

“It’s hard to think about sports being taken away. That’s my life. I play football, baseball and basketball. Thinking of that being taken away, I’m like, what else do I do?” said Brenden Cirlincuinn, an eighth grade athlete from St. Gabriel’s Catholic School.

Clay County health officials say they aren’t planning a vote on the matter or a meeting to further discuss this issue. 

Any decision to offer a spring season is ultimately up to each individual school district.

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