FRANKFORT. KY. — Parents from Northern Kentucky and across the commonwealth demonstrating outside the capitol Monday got their wish when Gov. Andy Beshear gave his OK to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association plan to allow sports this fall.
But Beshear said he approved reluctantly and he and state health commissioner Dr. Steven Stack cautioned everyone involved - players, parents, coaches, referees, administrators and fans - that they bear the responsibility for following safety standards in light of rising numbers of COVID-19. Beshear said he won't hesitate to shut down fall sports if things go awry.
The KHSAA plan allows fall sports teams to start practicing this week and games to start Sept. 7.
As a parent, Beshear said he would not allow his kids to play a contact sport "based on what I know." That includes evidence of myocarditis - inflammation of the heart - in some college athletes who tested positive for COVID-19. Beshear, who pleaded unsuccessfully to delay the opening of schools, said the virus is still at a frightening level.
"We can't be making every decision for what's necessary for folks out of the governor's office," Beshear said, explaining why he gave the OK despite his reservations. "It's going to incumbent on superintendents, coaches, the different groups to make the wisest decisions that they can."
Beshear called on schools to be transparent and make "full disclosure" about athletes who may have COVID or come in contact with people who do, and keep those athletes quarantined and off the playing field - big game or not. He said schools can’t hide COVID-19 numbers to keep playing.
Stack said heart issues - cited as a factor in the Big Ten's decision to cancel fall sports - give him pause. Stack said Ohio State found between 1`0% and 13% of athletes with COVID-19 would develop myocarditis. In extreme cases, myocarditis can lead to heart failure, Stack said.
"That's a pretty high price to play for playing sports," Stack said.
Stack said while the Southeastern Conference, which includes Kentucky, has taken the position that it can conduct fall sports safely, the SEC is requiring football players to undergo three tests per week. Beshear said it's unlikely any high school district could afford that level of testing.
Rules on fan attendance are still to come from the KHSAA.
Nevertheless, Beshear's decision figured to be good news to parents like Katie Enxel, who demonstrated Monday.
“I’m afraid I’m going to cry, but it breaks my heart to know there’s a possibility I might not ever watch him on that soccer field again,” said Enxel, whose son Connor is a senior at Newport Central Catholic.
“And, it just upsets me.”
The stakes are high.
“Maybe he could get recognized by a college coach. Some of his friends are playing for college scholarships,” Enxel said.
Enxel is one of more than 30,000 members of an online group called Let Them Play in Kentucky. About 200 members of the group gathered at the capitol Monday.
WCPO 9 called the 10 Kentucky school districts we cover and seven said they were practicing Monday. Those are Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Mason, Boone and Pendleton.
Kenton County was on hold. Owen and Bracken didn't respond.
Critics argue that entire communities could suffer if sports cause a COVID-19 outbreak. But parents like Enxel ask: What about our kids?
“I worry about them so much mentally that if he does not have this drive for soccer is he going to shut down,” she said.