City Schools require COVID-19 vaccine for high school athletes ahead of winter sports season

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MERVO Coach Deron Harding, center, is approaching his fifth season as the head of Mervo’s boys basketball program. Harding received both doses of the COVID vaccine in February but understands why some players are hesitant to get vaccinated. (Courtesy photo)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

Baltimore City Public Schools has announced that it will require all staff and all high school student-athletes to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to participate in sports starting with the upcoming winter and spring seasons.

Officials believe the safety measure is a step in the right direction, with possible intentions of expanding the mandate by requiring all BCPS employees to be fully vaccinated as well. City Schools said it is working with union partners on the details of this requirement, and will provide an update in the coming days. 

High school student-athletes participating in winter sports (basketball, indoor track & field, swimming, wrestling) must be vaccinated by Nov. 1, two weeks ahead of the first official day of winter sports practices on Nov. 15. Winter sports competition is set to begin Dec. 6 according to MPSSAA’s official start dates outline.

“Getting vaccinated as quickly as possible helps ensure our student athletes’ health and safety and reduces disruptions to the season caused by quarantines,” says the announcement, which was released Aug. 31.

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“We’ve already seen that quarantines of close contacts on athletic teams can mean that large numbers of team members can be quarantined at once, potentially resulting in forfeited games.”

Student-athletes who are not vaccinated are required to be quarantined for 10 days if they come into close contact with an individual who is COVID-positive, BCPS said in a statement. 

Conversely, fully vaccinated students identified as close contacts will not have to quarantine if they are symptom-free, enabling student-athletes to participate in games and practices with minimized disruption.

While fall athletes are not required to receive the vaccine due to the season already being underway, they are still strongly encouraged to do so.

Baltimore City had no high school winter sports season in 2020 due to ongoing pandemic concerns. Though the vaccine mandate has garnered mixed reaction, this year’s upcoming season is highly anticipated by many of the area’s coaches, athletes and fans.

Coach Deron Harding is approaching his fifth season as the head of Mervo’s boys basketball program. 

“We didn’t have a season last year. I felt bad for the teams that had seniors, and trying to place those guys in school was just a tough situation,” Harding said.

“All in all, I just miss being around the guys, being around the gym. That was very, very difficult for me, especially for somebody who’s been doing this for 21 years.”

Harding, also a staff member with the school’s life skills and special education department, said he received the vaccine in February. There has been slight concern about getting the vaccine among his group, he added.

“I won’t say everybody is onboard but there is a little concern with some guys and I can understand that,” he continued.

Kiyre Transou, a freshman who will compete on Mervo’s varsity basketball team, is somewhat on the fence but is excited for the season.

“I don’t think they should require everybody to get [vaccinated] but I feel as though they’re doing it to protect everybody so if we do get it, the [virus] won’t spread as much,” said Transou, a 5-foot-10 point guard. 

“I know some of my teammates are not sure about getting the vaccine because they don’t know [whether there’s] long-term effects or what’s in it.”

Despite the ongoing concern, Transou said he plans to get vaccinated. 

A number of local employers and surrounding school systems are giving their employees the option of getting vaccinated or submitting weekly testing. Harding said he would have liked to have seen a similar requirement for BCPS high school student-athletes, but believes the vaccination requirement is the safest alternative at the moment.

“I was hoping that that could be a requirement for the athletes where they could test twice a week, and if someone or that particular person comes in contact with the virus, then we take the necessary steps as far as the person and the team to move forward,” he said.

“Just for everyone’s safety, I think the vaccine – those guys getting the vaccine – I don’t think that could be a harm to those guys. It allows us to play basketball freely like we want to play, and then on the other hand, the guys that are vaccinated are able to be around their family members with a little bit more comfortability.”

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