For High-schoolers Without a Start Date, Sports are their only in-person Outlet

For Charlestown High School students, there still is no inkling when it is they might get back to the classroom every day in person for those who choose to do so – even as elementary and middle schools students have dates etched in stone – but no doubt many have found healing in the late winter and spring through competitive sports.

One of the few things allowed in person for young people in the high school grades are school sports, and for students at Charlestown High it can be the only time they get to see, socialize and be active with friends they have known for years – but maybe haven’t seen in months.

Athletic Director Paige Lemieux said this year’s sports started with girls and boys basketball in January. At the moment, it’s morphed into what is called ‘Fall 2’ where they are playing soccer, football, volleyball and cheerleading. It’s an uncertain existence, she said, but rather than focus on the usual aspects of competition and winning – it’s more about healing for an age group that has had little public attention and is suffering greatly at times.

“It’s about the social-emotions and physical health and being active and being able to simply get out,” she said. “It’s been fantastic for the kids so far…We started with girls and boys basketball on Jan. 19 and we had a COVID outbreak for the girls’ team, but overall it’s been going well. The City provided us with a check-in process and we do testing on all athletes every Monday.”

Right now, the football team is on quarantine due to some COVID positive tests, but they are expected to get back on track. Meanwhile, many teams the high school is supposed to play don’t have enough kids to field a team.

“We have had enough players to field our teams, but work has been a huge factor for kids now,” she said. “Some kids now have to work to help their families. Other kids don’t have to work, but they’ve found this new flexibility under this new online schedule so that they can work more and make more money to save for college or just to have. They can work more and make more money, or they can play a sport. I’ve found those that are choosing the sport are very happy with that.”

One might think it sounds like less than successful.

Once talking with the kids – who are often out practicing on the high school fields each afternoon – it becomes obvious that even just practicing soccer with friends is a blessing to these young people. While one might expect to play a set number of games in a sports season, that isn’t necessarily the case for these young athletes and they’re okay with it. Many log off of their remote classes and commute on public transportation for an hour just to get to a 90 minute practice.

“For many of them they finish school at 1:50 p.m. and they have to get out of bed and out of their house and commute here for a practice at 3 p.m.,” she said. “That’s been a factor for some, but the players here are committed and excited to be here. They are willing to commute an hour after being on Zoom all day just to feel normal again and be active and be around friends again that they haven’t seen. It’s been more than a year since they’ve had sports.”

Lemieux said from the time school started until winter sports began in January, she estimated receiving about 1,000 e-mail messages from students and families inquiring about the possibility of sports resuming.

Senior Adrianna Gutierrez is doing cheer and soccer, and for the first time. While her main sport is softball, which is coming up on April 26’s spring season start, she said COVID has afforded her the opportunity to play soccer, which she could never do before due to cheerleading.

She said COVID and lockdowns and Zoom school – all without organized sports – has made it hard for her to maintain her physical fitness, and she has lost weight due to the change. Now, she’s just trying to get used to being the active teen-ager – one that says she loves learning about and coming to school in Charlestown – that she once was.

“Being in the house all the time caused me to lose weight,” she said. “I felt so alone and isolated, but now I feel free because I can play sports and get back to being in shape and physically fit…Without this you get trapped in the social media world and not seeing friends every day. You begin to think people don’t like you because they don’t text you back, but everyone was living in their own world in COVID. I realize that now.”

She said sports has also come with a push by the school to get she and her classmates more engaged – maybe to try a sport they’ve never done before simply to get out. There has also been ample opportunities for counselling at MGH Clinic, which has an affiliation with the high school.

And interestingly enough, some of the sports may not even include many games, but that’s not a game-changer, Gutierrez said.

“A game is a gift, especially because it’s my senior year,” she said. “I really want to get softball in. I wanted to show off for my final year. Thank God they allowed us to play sports. Softball was cancelled last year. I didn’t get a chance to show out and get the attention of scouts and compete for a scholarship opportunity. I’m hoping to do that this spring.” Spring sports at the high school – consisting of softball, baseball, and outdoor track – will begin on April 26, and for many high schoolers still trapped every day in the world of Zoom, it can’t come quick enough.

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