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Dear H.S. athletes: sports or a social life, but not both

New guidance from the national governing body of high school athletics hit the news cycle Tuesday, fittingly reinforcing what coaches have told their players since practice began two weeks ago:

You can play sports or have a social life during a pandemic. You can't do both. Because the latter betrays the former, based on new evidence and common sense.

This unique perch in time has left coaches and administrators in our schools more concerned with choices their players make away from the game. Normally, we're awash in proper conditioning, and implementing offense, defense and out-of-bounds plays. Now it's all moot if one bad decision on a Saturday night leads to a COVID-related pause.

Once again with feeling: You can play sports or have a social life in a pandemic. You can't do both.

Three bullet points to ponder:

• The National Federation's new guidelines reported that community infection rates are a better gauge for transmission of the illness during athletic events. Moreover, recent data shows transmission is relatively rare during athletic events.

• NFHS also gave us some hope for the upcoming season, reporting that the science shows infection rates in non-contact sports are lower than those in contact sports; outdoor sports have lower infection rates than indoor sports; and the use of face masks during indoor events produces similar transmission rates to outdoor sports.

• NFHS said new evidence reveals a majority of sports-related COVID cases come from social contact rather than participation.

Know what all that means?

You can play sports or have a social life in a pandemic. You can't do both.

Connecticut offers proof of the National Federation's findings.

Wilton High School sports went on pause the week winter practices began because contract tracers determined that 25 positive cases emanated from a large, maskless, weekend high school party earlier in January. Principal Robert O'Donnell said in a published report that "parents need to take ownership of what happens in their own homes and what students engage in," adding that "parents never know if a student might be ill, if a student is asymptomatic."

The New Haven Register reported that state and local officials are investigating a COVID outbreak in North Branford that's connected to a large family gathering. One of the infected individuals plays hockey at North Branford High, thus forcing the entire team to quarantine.

The newspaper quoted an official from the East Shore Health Department saying, "everybody in the family gathering got ill."

It would assume facts not in evidence to suggest that attending a large gathering would necessarily lead to a COVID outbreak. But the odds sure increase.

There is cautious optimism among coaches and administrators in the region that the high school season will actually begin on time next week. But there's high likelihood of a pause if too many kids and families, for example, partake of large Super Bowl parties on Sunday night. It's the potential for Wilton and North Branford all over again.

Maybe this is God's way of teaching delayed gratification. Or the concepts of discipline, sacrifice and temperance. But this can't be reiterated loud enough. One bad decision can lead to a pause in an already abbreviated season. This is how the tentacles of personal responsibility reach deep into our communities.

This is not easy. Many of us feel the strain of social isolation, especially now with COVID restrictions creeping toward an entire year. But if we've learned nothing else in the last 11 months, we've learned that human beings are hard wired for social interaction. Sports are a form of social interaction. So we ought to be grateful for whatever opportunities exist.

In this case, gratitude is best manifested in self-discipline. No big parties or social gatherings. COVID is prevalent enough without tempting fate.

The examples of Wilton and North Branford are just more cautionary tales. If you truly value the time with your teammates playing the games you love, you'll forgo the typical teen social life. For a little while longer.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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