At Monday’s school board meeting, several school board members told administrators and coaches they have their full support for whatever they decide they should do in scheduling extra-curricular activities.

We not only echo that sentiment, we’d like to go a step further -- we’re ready for the district to put extra-curricular activities back on the schedule -- whether it’s football, after school programs,  drama or debate.

Research shows that the most valuable learning and growing experiences come out of extra-curricular activities. Being part of a team, learning to work together, helping each other succeed helps kids learn how to succeed in life better than any other thing that schools could possibly do.

Former USD-379 superintendent Mike Folks called extracurricular activities (athletics in particular) “the best program we have for at-risk kids.” He’s not wrong. There’s truth in the saying that “idle hands are the devil’s playground,” particularly when it comes to youth.

Activities like football and basketball motivate kids that might be in trouble to stay out of trouble. Activities like debate and drama engage and challenge gifted kids who aren’t getting enough of that in the classroom or are bored for other reasons.  

When school buildings closed in March, we didn’t just miss one-on-one and hands-on interactions between teachers and students -- which are also great ways to learn, we also lost those all-important extra-curriculars. Sports, forensics, band, vocal drama and pep activities all came to a standstill -- most cancelled with no hope of ever being rescheduled.

These events weren’t just missed by the kids who participate in them, but also by the community. We didn’t get to see the girls basketball team compete for the state champion title; nor did we get to see the track team, golfers, tennis players or the softball or baseball team go to state. We sorely missed Stardusters, ‘That’s Entertainment!’ and a host of other year-end events we always look forward to seeing.

But we understand when the state and administrators who made the decision to cancel or not schedule these events are coming from. The fact that Lansing prison is linked to at least 846 cases of the virus and six deaths --more than any one facility in the state shows us what could have happened if we kept schools open and held events with large crowds. It would have spread like wildfire.

But at some point, life has to go on. Board member Jeff Cannizzo said that not having the socialization that comes with extracurricular events is “digging pretty hard” on people, he isn’t wrong.

School officials are talking about eliminating events that require overnight stays, staying away from hot spots and limiting play to small leagues -- these are all great ideas. Here’s a few we’d like to add to list:

Hold games without fans or limit fans to students only. As much as we’d like to be there for the game, we will make do with a live feed or after-game reports if that helps minimize the risk.

Add intramural leagues or limiting play to one or two neighboring schools as an options. Colleges have had a lot of success with this -- as it gives students who aren’t great athletes a chance to play.

Compete by video-conferencing or other electronic means in activities that can accommodate it. While taking a trip is a part of the experience, some activities -- such as debate, band and trap-shooting -- don’t necessarily have to travel out of town to compete.

Don’t underestimate kids. This spring, schools limited online schooling to one or two hours a day, but we think our kids could have handled a lot more than that. The enthusiasm in which kids embraced the idea -- which we were certain wasn’t going to work -- has turned our thinking around on this. If anything, online learning didn’t succeed as much as it could have because students didn’t get enough of it.

Monday’s board meeting ended with board members Apryl Peerson, Paige Taddiken and Jeff Cannizzo telling administrators they would support whatever decision they and coaches made when it came to scheduling games and extra-curricular events. We know this is a lot to put on their shoulders, but we would like to add our faith in them as well. We’ll support whatever decision they make, even if it’s one we don’t like.

Because we know coaches, teachers and USD-379 staff have our kids best interests in mind.

-- Ryan D. Wilson

Are you doing all you can to help?

In five years, in 10 years, what will you tell friends and loved ones about how you behaved during the novel coronavirus outbreak?

Will you say how you rigorously followed medical recommendations? Will you say you washed your hands often, more than 20 seconds at a time? Will you talk about how you avoided crowds and having friends visit?

Will you say that the times were difficult, but because you and everyone you knew followed these mitigation strategies, the coronavirus was prevented from reaching its true destructive potential? Or will you tell your friends and loved ones a different story?

Will you say how you listened to conspiracy theories from anonymous online posters?

Will you say you laughed at people who washed their hands religiously? Will you say how you kept on visiting stores and friends, laughing at the rules put in place to keep everyone safe?

Will you say that the times were difficult, but because you and everyone you knew ignored the warnings and advice, the coronavirus death toll surged past predictions, striking down hundreds of thousands in the United States alone?

In five years, in 10 years, which of these narratives will you tell?

As Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, put it recently, if we think we’re overreacting, we’re probably doing the right thing. Because in the battle against this new virus, sweeping shutdowns are the only proven way to slow its spread.

Following all of these mitigation strategies will flatten the curve. It mean that fewer people become infected. Following all of these mitigation strategies will save lives — possible hundreds of thousands of lives.

And because these things won’t happen, it may seem as though we did too much. But it is only because of mitigation that these things were possible in the first place.

No one enjoys the times that we’re going through. It’s human nature to deny difficulty, to look for silver linings, to keep going on with things as they are. But now, for these few weeks or months, we can’t do so. We have to follow scientific advice — not slide by on technicalities.

In five years, in 10 years, will you tell friends and loved ones that you did this? Will you be able to tell them you understood why you did so? And if not, in five years, in 10 years, will you be there at all?

-- The Topeka Capital-Journal