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Kent Meridian coach says sports could offer schedule, normalcy for students

Lake View players take the field for the second half of the South Carolina High School League Class A football championship game at Benedict College on Dec. 5, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

The Kent School District emailed students and families to announce that it has postponed the start of any high school and middle school sports to no sooner than Feb. 22. The district told athletic directors there will be no sports until kids are able to safely be in class in-person again.

Justin Callander, a math teacher and the head football coach at Kent Meridian High School, joined the Gee and Ursula Show to share how students and coaches feel about that decision.

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“A mass email came from our district office saying … sports won’t be played, as of right now, with the possibility of going back on February 22,” Callander explained. “And that’s a tentative date, … that could move forward, it could move backwards. I was told it probably won’t move forward at all.”

“So hopefully we find out something before then that we can start on the 22nd with some in-person training, and kind of get ready for the seasons that the WIAA put forward for the first season,” he added.

Callander says kids are trying to get out there and do what they can, but they’re bored.

“I have a son who is a junior in high school, and I mean, he’s doing the best that he can,” Callander said. “He’s hanging out with friends as he can. Our guys are hanging out with their friends, and they’re trying to organize stuff. But I know that they’re — I wouldn’t say depressed — they’re bummed.”

The remote learning model in place now “isn’t high school,” Callander says, and it’s not something anyone is used to, students or adults.

“I know that one thing that everybody was looking forward to, including me as an adult, was getting back to some sort of normalcy with sports,” he said. “… I think that people were ready to get back. We kind of had that carrot in front of us, and we were working towards it. I know other coaches in the region have been meeting with their kids and kind of getting ready, and we’ve been doing all that. I’ve been meeting with my coaching staff … once or twice a week and going over stuff. I mean, we’re ready. And I know the kids are ready.”

The kids are working out, doing what they can, whether that’s body weight lifting at home or being able to pay for a personal trainer, but Callander says they’re ready.

“And I think a lot of them feel hurt that … they were told no while their friends and neighbors in Tahoma, or Auburn, or Federal Way, … Renton, they’re all going back, and we’re not. So that hurt them,” he said.

If kids in Kent aren’t able to return to sports, Callander is worried they might go to another school.

“Selfishly, I’m afraid of having kids go to another school, which I don’t blame them,” he said. “I mean, sports aren’t the end all be all, but a lot of our kids, sports are the reason why they go to school. … And we’ve seen that with the way the grades are right now. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of kids across the entire country, not just Washington state, that are struggling with their grades. And online learning isn’t for everybody. I mean, it’s for some people, but it’s not for everybody.”

“So I know a lot of the kids are struggling, and I’m afraid of losing contact with the kids,” he continued. “I became an educator and a coach, one, to impact lives, and I feel like that has been diminished. I’m not impacting the lives like I want to. I know other guys out there, and women, coaches, are not able to impact the lives like they want to, and that’s the hardest part. We worry about our kids like they’re our own, and I know a lot of them are out there struggling whether it’s lack of food, or lack of net resources that they had when they were in school, and so I think that’s the biggest thing.”

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In an internal message to Kent athletic directors, the district said there will be not be any type of athletic or activity services until they can safely offer limited in-person instruction services to students. But Callander thinks a return to extracurriculars could actually be a step toward normalcy.

“I would argue in the fact that once we can kind of get back, if we get back into having athletics, and that includes band, and cheer, and all that too, is maybe there’s going to be some sense of normalcy for the kids, and we’ll get them on a schedule,” he said.

“… Kids are staying up all night playing video games, or watching TV, or doing whatever teenage kids do,” he added. “And so I think if we can get back into sports, we’ll be on a schedule, and we can kind of flip that into having some sense of normalcy. And the kids can start getting back into academics as being a forefront.”

For those student-athletes who now see the possibility of not playing at all this year, Callendar says some have asked him why they should even bother going to class.

“That’s a terrible thing,” he said. “God, I mean, it hurts me to even have to answer that question like, well, you’ve got to, … I mean, sports are a small part of your life. In four years from now, … you could be a dad, you could be in college, and not playing any sports.”

“You want them to see the light at the end of the tunnel and like, this is just a small part of your life, I’m trying to put you in a position to succeed out there in the real world,” he added.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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