USD 501 allowing basketball players to not wear masks on court, cancels wrestling season

Published: Feb. 18, 2021 at 8:09 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Topeka Public Schools Board of Education will allow basketball athletes to not wear masks in the postseason while on the court following the county’s COVID-19 score.

The decision comes after a consensus from a majority of the board. They said they will allow players to not wear masks on the court only if the district tests players prior to the state game then have them all learn remotely following for two weeks.

Topeka High School Principal Rebecca Morrisey said the decision to allow students to not wear masks in the postseason came after looking at different factors.

She, and USD 501 Athletic Programs Supervisor Colin Cathey, said the sport itself is medium-risk to contract the coronavirus, other teams do not fully follow the district’s regulations, and wearing a mask while playing may interfere with the play on the court. Arguing that masks could create turnovers and change the final decision of the game -- saying one play can make the difference.

“If you watched our Washburn Rural game, one play made the difference. One play makes the difference,” said Morrisey. “They’ve done it anyway, regardless of the fact they might want them off. I want you all to know they will do what you ask. They have and they have not complained.”

Players, coaches and officials will continue to wear masks on the bench, bus, hallways, locker rooms and any other time off the court. The masks would only come off if they are on the court.

Heavy breathing is making the masks not be as efficient as they thought it once was according to Morrisey.

Member Dr. Michael Morrison said that although younger adults and students may be asymptomatic, they can still transfer COVID-19 - if they are carrying it - to older individuals. He said he is frustrated with KSHSAA for not following the science of the disease and asymptomatic carriers, but is in agreement with the board.

Other members also asked for research on mask wearing as to not disrupt the players’ chances of being successful.

Members mentioned the idea that players should be tested before the state tournament to make sure they were negative, then be forced to learn remotely for the next two weeks to be able to play without a mask first. This would be only for TPS schools and other schools would not be forced to test their players.

As of right now, the teams hosting a home game in the playoffs are the Topeka High Girls team, Topeka West Boys and Highland Park Boys. Topeka High Girls and Topeka West Boys are currently the number one seed and would be playing at home the first three games, then would go onto play the final two in Wichita.

Highland Park Boys would be hosting the first round and would continue to host games if they are the higher seed, if they win.

Dr. Scott Mickelson said he was frustrated to see other teams not having to wear a mask. He said in the spirit of fair competition, it does not seem fair and it does make the victories that more satisfying, but is struggling to combat scientists and research saying people should be wearing masks.

After the county’s scorecard has been out of the uncontrolled zone for the last two weeks and has improved to 12, TPS decided to not allow wrestling competitions as sub-state competition begins Friday. Cathey said schools wrestlers are already scheduled and ranked in their respected division and weight class, making it not possible to start up their season to catch up.

Morrisey said students and families have been safe and cautious, but there is no guarantee that a cluster or some cases of COVID-19 could be contracted to players or coaches or families.

“You know, there is no zero guarantee but it doesn’t appear that as a medium-risk sport, just on the court, that it’s as likely,” she said.

As hoopers lace up their choes, USD 501 teachers are rolling up their sleeves. Shawnee Co. launched vaccinations for K-through-12 staff thsi week and Gov. Laura Kelly plans to expand it.

French Middle School was up first -- 54 total staff members got their first shot.

Principal Kelli Hoffman said, “You have no idea some of the weight that has come off our staff’s shoulders knowing that we are one step further protected from the virus and can better serve our students.”

For the full USD 501 meeting, you can find it here on their YouTube.

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