Christy Li

Equipment and jerseys will be left collecting dust in storage closets; courts and tracks will remain untouched. A global pandemic has brought the county’s interscholastic athletic program to a temporary halt.

Due to COVID-19, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) announced on August 3 the postponement of all fall and winter sports. On August 17, MCPS announced a virtual program for all interscholastic athletes during the first semester, followed by a proposed hybrid program with shortened competitive seasons during the second semester, if conditions allow. These circumstances have left student-athletes, especially those hoping to play at the collegiate level, in a state of disappointment and uncertainty.

This news has been especially hard on senior student-athletes; for many of them, this will be their last competitive sports season — and the last opportunity to earn coveted spots in college programs. 

“It’s very unfortunate, because for a lot of [student athletes] one of the only ways for them to get into a college or get into a college for free is [collegiate sports recruitment],” Garrett Siff, Montgomery Blair high school varsity football player, said.

According to Siff, colleges have started the recruiting process much earlier this year, which forces students to commit to schools much earlier, in order to secure their class. This also means that athletes who have just moved up from junior varsity and athletes who do not have tapings of their varsity games will not be able to access these opportunities

Montgomery Blair high school varsity tennis player Shariar Vaez-Ghaemi also points out the disproportionate effect of this new process on less privileged student-athletes. Sports scholarships are a common way for lower-income students to be able to afford college. According to the National Collegiate Athletics Association, 59% of all student-athletes in Division 1, the highest level of college athletics, and 62% of student-athletes in Division 2 receive some level of athletic scholarship. 80% of Division 3 athletes receive some type of financial aid, such as grants and need-based scholarships, totaling on average $17,000.

“We’re going to see that unfortunate reality where those sports scholarships and all those other opportunities which have typically been a way for low-income students to get a college education are going to start going more towards the richer students, and MCPS won’t be able to do anything about it,” Vaez-Ghaemi said.

Vaez-Gaehmi claims to have seen several private sports leagues practicing at local middle and high schools, completely disregarding social distancing protocol. These private leagues, which are generally only accessible to students from upper-middle and upper-class families, allow privileged students access to a qualified coach and other athletes to practice with during a time when most other students do not have that kind of luxury.

Lost scouting and scholarship opportunities are only part of the broader sense of loss shared by student-athletes. From playoff games to senior nights, senior student-athletes are understandably upset at missing out on many more athletic experiences and making personal memories.

Siff says that he has always wanted to play in a playoff game, but the possibility is beginning to seem less and less likely. He especially misses playing in front of his community on Friday night game days, and feeling the energy from the fans.

Northwest high school varsity volleyball player Felix Gu recalls feeling more disheartened for his fellow teammates than for himself when last school year’s spring season was abruptly canceled.

Gu states that he has friends who had just gotten interested in playing volleyball last school year, due to a popular anime show. They were super excited and “super hyped” for the season. They tried out and made the co-ed volleyball team, bought all of their volleyball gear, and started going to practice, just for the season to be canceled shortly after.

“Just seeing [my friends] deflate like that was really depressing,” Gu said.

As a rising senior, Gu also recognizes that those teammates will never be able to experience a regular volleyball season. Despite all this, he remains hopeful about his senior year experiences both in and out of athletics.

Although disappointed, many student-athletes acknowledge that the county is doing the best that they can, considering the circumstances.

“I’m just really glad that they can at least offer, especially for me as a senior, some type of final season,” Ivy Liang, Montgomery Blair high school varsity volleyball player, said.

MCPS officials will meet again in late November to discuss and finalize second-semester academic and athletic plans.