BELOIT — Parents, coaches and students spoke out in favor of reopening athletics and extracurricular activities in the Beloit School District at a public hearing held Saturday afternoon.
Following Saturday’s hearing, the board will vote on the athletic and extracurricular activities reopening at its Tuesday meeting set for 7 p.m. at Kolak Education Center, 1500 Fourth St.
If the board approves the sports and extracurricular activities reopening on Tuesday, those activities could resume as early as February, Board of Education President Megan Miller said in an earlier interview.
Parent and basketball coach Joe Oberneder kicked off the meeting, saying that the district needs to give its student athletes hope and allow sports to impact student lives in a positive way.
“I’m sure we have lost student athletes that would be with us, and they may not come back to us. We can’t make an impact on their life when they are not with us,” he said.
Mother Brenda Plakans emailed the board which was read by Board Secretary Michelle Shope. Plakans said athletics and activities help students learn new skills, develop leadership capabilities, learn to work as a team and have fun at school under guidance of a trusted adult. She encouraged a reopening of athletics and extracurricular activities. She said there are models in surrounding communities for how to do it safely and a number of Beloit sports teams held practice this fall successfully.
Unlike teaching sitting in close quarters, Plakans said athletics can allow for action in smaller groups in larger spaces.
Soccer coach, educator and parent Brian Denu said the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association has guidelines schools must adhere to and there are plans on how to screen, ride buses and more. He said he’s seen other teams compete with success. Every school in Rock and Walworth county is playing its winter sports seasons, and he said most Illinois schools have been given the green light to bring back athletics.
Denu said addressing the social and emotional needs of students is critical to their future. Students are missing out on developing lifelong relationships with peers, learning to be part of a team and relying on each other.
Denu said athletics and extracurricular activities help students stay focused on their academics and behavior. They are tools to open students to the academic world, especially for those who have a difficult time with school work. For many students, school is not just academics. It’s about being part of something bigger than themselves and having a support system of those around them working toward a common goal, he said.
Jeffrey Prowse said he was in support of full reopening of athletics and extracurricular activities proposed by Athletic Director Joel Beard and administration. He said it would offer Beloit students the same opportunities as other districts with the added benefit of being one of the more rigorous safety plans available.
The positives from being able to participate include improved mental and physical health.
“The future college prospects for many students are riding on these activities,” he said. “Athletics, music programs, theater programs and many unique clubs are the face of school districts to the public. Each day without these activities has been a loss to this district, but not nearly the magnitude of loss the students have borne.”
If the board approves athletic reopening, teacher, parent and hockey and golf coach James Hoey said winter sports might be able to have a small season, if only practices. He said boys hockey played for Beloit Youth Association and put together a team for guys in high school and most have been playing since early December with no problems. Other winter athletes such as basketball players, swimmers and wrestlers, he said, deserve an opportunity to at least experience part of their season.
Mom and school district volunteer Becky Wong submitted an email to be read by Shope. In six weeks she said Beloit kids would have been out of school for a year. She said the district needs to give the kids and parents hope and confidence that it’s serious about transitioning back to school safely.
Parent David Ramirez Jr. said the kids have to go back to school and the district has the resources to do it. He said a lot of kids have talents and have a need to express them. He questioned how many kids might fall through the cracks if there is no plan or direction. He said he’s not an athletic person, but wants to give his kids all the things he didn’t have.
Parent Jim Cronin said there is a divide in the district and community in regards to reopening. If schools stay virtual, he said there is no reason why athletics and activities couldn’t reopen. Many athletes are participating in sports at the club level and there hasn’t been any proof it’s contributing to the spread of COVID-19.
Student athlete Griffin Oberneder said he’s sat out his golf and football seasons. He said many other schools are playing sports right now. He said it’s frustrating to see friends in the Beloit Turner School District play throughout the winter.
“It’s very important for us to get our student athletes engaged. Having student athletes in the building will be a true test to see how we can be successful in returning back to in- person school,” he said.
Parent Scott Harmon said the district has had a year to come up with a plan. He said other area schools have made an effort to be in-person in some way.
“Children in our district are struggling academically and emotionally, and this board is thinking about extracurricular activities,” he said.
“There is a reason they are called extra. I have heard the arguments that it will help kids focus. What about the kids that are not in extracurriculars? We need to focus on all students’ needs, not just a few.”
He urged the board to “get it together” and get kids in the classroom.
Student Mekhi Horton submitted an Shope read. In it Horton said he can’t recall how many times he’s been told to stay off the phone and devices and to be physically active. He hopes to leave Zoom classes for a couple hours a day to play the sport he loves which is volleyball with his team.