BENNETT'S MINUTES: IHSAA allows virtual students to compete in fall sports, maybe

Monday, July 20, 2020

With the growing uncertainty over the prospect of athletics taking place at Indiana high schools this fall due to the COVID--19 pandemic, plans are being formulated for how to handle things in some difficult circumstances.

While most school corporations are moving ahead with lengthy lists of guidelines and policies for traditional education in the school building, many are offering virtual alternatives (e-learning) for parents who are not comfortable sending their children to school buildings containing potentially harmful bacteria.

In those instances during this unchartered time, the IHSAA has gotten ahead of the curve for parents wondering if a student could still participate in school athletics while doing virtual lessons at home.

The IHSAA sent a letter to athletic directors in Indiana recently, informing them of the change to the by-laws. The ruling says that if a school is offering virtual or online courses this fall semester, and it’s taught by a member school personnel, the student-athlete can still participate in sports.

But, “local control of the decision to permit a school to set a requirement above the standard set forth by the IHSAA. For instance, a school may still require in-building attendance for athletic participation,” said the IHSAA.

Basically, school corporations can allow such participation at their discretion if they choose — but can also deny it.

Personally, if school facilities are deemed unsafe for classroom work (where far less sweating occurs, in most cases) then parents should not contradict themselves by allowing their children to compete athletically.

The IHSAA no doubt was looking to avoid lawsuits by parents with this ruling, and there are some benefits. Having fewer kids in a school building would reduce the amount of coronavirus carriers, and having sports would help to restore a sense of normalcy absent from most aspects of our lives.

Not me, but obviously each family can do whatever it chooses is best. I can only imagine the number of households, whether the parents are still married or not, in which one parent has one opinion and the other has the opposite viewpoint.

To test the waters on this topic last week, I put a poll on my Twitter page (shown above) asking my followers whether only some sports should be allowed, no sports should be allowed or all sports should be allowed.

Probably not surprisingly, the “all sports” response won by a large margin. A large majority of my Twitter followers know me through some sort of sports venture, and most are big sports fans. Their response was about as predictable as asking third-graders if they want to eat pizza or broccoli, in retrospect.

Whether schools would permit anyone to compete in sports if an entire school corporation gets shut down should be a totally different discussion, and I imagine (and hope) if things get that bad that a corporation would also shut down its athletic programs. I was surprised that playing sports during a time of e-learning at all, considering that many college presidents went on record saying their schools would not offer athletics unless all students were on campus.

We will probably never know the amount of teamwork that neighboring school corporations will utilize in making such tough decisions, but I would imagine there is some in many cases.

If a student-athlete is taking e-learning courses but his/her school does not allow participation in athletics, would/could that student try to transfer to another school where virtual students can play sports?

May never happen, but it could come up at some point.

Clearly, figuring out the best way for students to be educated should be a much higher priority than athletics. But sports matter a great deal to a lot of people, so it will be interesting to see how things play out.

Struck HOF-bound

Former Greencastle wrestling coach Danny Struck, now head coach at Jeffersonville, has been elected to the Indiana Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame.

Struck is entering his 19th year as head coach at Jeffersonville, and has led the Red Devils to eight of the school’s 10 sectional titles (including three straight).

Jeffersonville also won three Hoosier Hills Conference titles and has 482 dual meet victories. He is the vice president of the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association.

“It feels kind of weird, as I feel I have a long way to go and a lot more I want to do with kids. I love ‘my kids’ and really just try and do acts of love for them,” the 43-year-old Struck told the Jeffersonville News and Tribune on Thursday. “So it was a surprise.

“I’m still watching, reading and learning daily to try and be better. I still try and read a book or two a month and go to four-to-six clinics a year. In my mind I am still doing what my kids are doing — learning, trying to be the best version of myself I can be.”

Struck was nominated by Mooresville coach Dan Mikesell, long-time coach at Northview.

“I have watched his career and was surprised to know that he had yet to be nominated to be in the Indiana Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame,” said Mikesell. “Words don’t do justice to the type of influence that Danny has on his students and athletes. I have been lucky enough to serve on Indiana national teams with him and witnessed first-hand his unique ability to both motivate and inspire young athletes. In the past 20-plus years, I have also competed against his teams and find his athletes well-trained, knowledgeable and hard to beat, as well as exhibiting the best sportsmanship possible. His work with all aspects of the Jeffersonville wrestling program has been amazing.”

Struck, who was the National Developmental Coach of the Year in 2011 for his work in developing athletes and programs for future Olympians, was thankful to the people who helped him get where he is.

“I do feel good that my mentors and peers on the Hall of Fame committee thought enough of me to vote me in. I follow their careers and learn from them, so I feel validated those quality individuals think I’m on the right track.”