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Sports

Some Kansas City High School Athletes Discover It 'Takes A Team' To Win Even During Pandemic

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Lincoln Prep players celebrate a touchdown Friday night against St. Joseph Benton. Despite football being on the list of high-risk activities by the National High School Federation, schools in Missouri were able to take the field or courts this past weekend under varying amounts of safety measures.

One of the biggest decisions schools have faced was whether falls sports would be played, giving parents and students another decision to make with possibly long-term implications.

Long after the football season ended last fall, Lincoln Prep head football coach, William Lowe, was concerned about the isolation factor his players were dealing with when the coronavirus hit Kansas City. So he and his assistant coaches did something about it.

“In April, we all wore masks, got gloves. At that time, it was the height of COVID,” says Lowe. “We bought T-shirts for the kids and we went to every kid’s house on our roster.”

The isolation factor leads to anxiety, which concerns Kansas City sports psychologist Dr. Andrew Jacobs. What Lowe and his staff did is what Jacobs recommends to any coaching staff dealing with their players during the pandemic.

“Just say, 'Hey, I just want to know how you’re doing. How are you coping? How are things going? Are you training? How are things at home?'” says Jacobs. “It can open the door, I think, for enhanced relationships.”

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Lincoln Prep Head Coach William Lowe adjusts his mask during Friday night’s game against St. Joseph Benton. Lowe and his assistants took T-shirts to athletes in the spring to help battle the isolation factor brought on by pandemic safety measures.

Jacobs, who deals with high school age kids as a major part of his practice, says he’s had an increased number of cases since the coronavirus pandemic hit Kansas City in the spring and continued through the summer.

“It’s (the pandemic) already causing issues, but my concern is down the road,” says Jacobs. “The damage this is going to do by taking people away from things they’ve enjoyed. Teenagers especially need to be around other kids.”

That message was conveyed directly from a high school student at the Blue Valley school district board meeting on August 18. Blue Valley Northwest senior soccer player Ethan Hunt implored the Blue Valley school board to allow high school activities to continue while the board decided on its policies between virtual and in-person classes.

“It’ll have a massive impact on the mental health of student athletes and will create emotional trauma that will resonate not only through the classroom but through our community,” Hunt said before the board eventually voted to suspend its after-school activities.

In Wyandotte County, the Unified Government declared the shutdown for all non-professional sports and activities in the fall.

The National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS), based in Indianapolis, Indiana, lists football, cheer, dance and band as its “high risk” fall activities for the potential spread of the coronavirus.

But most Missouri schools around Kansas City continued fall sports and opened competition last weekend under strict protocols. Lincoln Prep, 11-1 last year, kicked off the season with a 42-0 victory Friday night over St. Joseph Benton.

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Lincoln Prep’s Howard Brown, left, signals to the sidelines during Friday’s game against St. Joseph Benton. Brown’s mother contracted COVID-19 and was one of many fans watching the Blue Tigers from outside the stadium’s fence.

The Blue Tigers season didn’t open without a scare during the summer. The team’s starting quarterback Howard Brown, who at 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds also plays on the defensive line, stayed at Lowe’s house for three weeks because Brown’s mother was ill from the coronavirus. She has since recovered and attended the season-opener with other family members and friends outside a chain link fence that surrounds the football field at 21st and Woodland.

While Lowe had at the pleasure of leading his team to victory, he had empathy for the sidelined kids on the Kansas side. Especially since Lowe is a former assistant coach in the Blue Valley and Turner school districts.

“From a kid’s perspective, those kids have to be devastated that aren’t playing,” said Lowe.

But Lowe knows the adults feel the anxiety along with the kids and the best way to deal with it is to keep close tabs on each other.

It’s what a successful team does.