Westford School Committee - Please vote "YES" so we can play winter sports!!

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Dear Superintendent Olsen and Westford School Committee Members,

Edited to add an extremely important part of this equation that was emailed to me by parents of a WA student and wanted to ensure that we were all aware of a very real issue affecting so many of our students:

"While children attend online classes, they spend the rest of their time in front of the TV and the Internet, and this in turn, has led to psycho-social problems like Internet addiction, lower self-esteem and low interest in physical activities (Marsden et al., 2020). Cyberbullying and anxiety while on social networking platforms have also taken their toll on their mental health (McLoughlin et al., 2019)."

Tragically, my best friend's sweet, loving fourteen-year-old daughter recently committed suicide on a Sunday morning in her bedroom in Connecticut. Months of online classes and being isolated away from her friends and sports took their toll. I wake up to news coverage of similar stories every day.  Our children's mental health is deteriorating; depression, anxiety and suicides are up.  Disconnect from peers and groups outside of the home are increasing feelings of isolation.  Most opportunities our children enjoyed for fun and relaxation have been closed or canceled. Daily life is now filled with stress, making it harder to ignore feelings of loneliness, sadness, worry and hopelessness. 

I am writing this letter to urge you to allow winter sports to be played this season.  What is at stake is far greater than the risk of contracting Covid-19.  

Sincerely,

Ron & Paula Whelan
Parents of Lauren Whelan, Junior at Westford Academy"

The last seven months have been challenging for many of us, but they have been the most challenging for our high school population. Despite all the restrictions and precautions that this pandemic has necessitated, one thing has remained constant - the need for physical health and wellness in our children. Competitive high school sports provide students with the opportunity to exercise and socialize so that they can stay physically and emotionally healthy, yet we are discussing whether this outlet should be taken away from our youth. Without sports to motivate high school students mentally and physically, many of our kids will lose their "why" in life. They lose their reason for getting out of bed each morning. They lose their drive and motivation, the essence of that which makes them who they are - student-athletes. One of the most valuable tools we have to ensure our high school population's health and wellness is activities in the form of competitive sports. As a community, it is our job to motivate our youth and support them in whatever way we can, and this should include allowing them to participate in athletics with the modifications put in place by the MIAA to ensure their safety. Gyms are open and club teams have been holding practices and games without a spread. When it appeared that youth hockey teams were seeing an increase in the number of Covid infections, additional modifications and penalties for non-compliance were put in place, successfully permitting the continuation of the youth hockey season in Massachusetts.

These times are hard for adults but even more difficult for our youth. We are expecting them to be advocates for their own education, to act reasonably and responsibly when it comes to Covid precautions, and to forgo nearly all social interactions that are the hallmark of a high school experience. Of course, we all want our children to stay healthy, but physical health is only a small part of what makes a healthy teenager. We have taken away so much of what teens love and need to be socially, emotionally, and psychologically healthy. They cannot meet with friends at school or have lunch together. Social gatherings outside of school have been limited to groups of no more than ten and they must all wear masks. There is a 10:00 p,m, curfew. The majority of kids are complying with these and other state and local regulations. As long as we as a community are permitted to choose whether we should permit winter sports, we should allow our kids this outlet. Please do not take away the high school winter sports season.

All of our kids have a right to a future and for many of them, sports is the way to achieve their dreams. Competitive sports provide student-athletes with the ability to develop leadership skills, to learn how to be part of a team, to set goals, to regulate their emotions, how to deal with pressure and stress, to win with class and to lose with dignity, and that success requires sacrifice, hard work, and dedication. For our seniors, this could be their last chance to play their sport and it could be their only chance to obtain an athletic scholarship. Every family in Westford should be afforded the opportunity to decide whether or not their child or children will participate in sports. Local officials should not take this decision out of the hands of families.

MGH officials have recently updated their opinion regarding sports and they maintain that sports can be played safely with additional precautions. See MGH

MIAA representatives have given their own recommendations for proceeding safely with winter sports, which all of the coaches and athletes will have to follow. See MIAA

As representatives from each high school winter sport at Westford Academy, we sincerely appreciate being given the opportunity to speak at the December 7th School Committee meeting. We look forward to answering any further questions you may have

Click HERE please find over 100 personal statements made by Westford Academy high school athletes and parents from every sport, as well as digital signatures indicating that the athletes understand they must follow the rules set forth by the School Committee, the MIAA, and the State of Massachusetts in order for them to play their sport. We all look forward to your YES vote at the meeting.

Thank you for your time!