By Gabriella Brown
Dozens of parents, students and community members rallied along W.Va. 705 Saturday morning to speak out against the indefinite shut down of Monongalia County schools and student athletics.
Not far away, WVU’s football team geared up for the first game of the season.
“You can’t say this group can go to school or this group can play sports, but this group can’t,” said Terri Turney, one of the rally’s parent organizers. “We want our kids back in school.”
Attendees held handmade posters reading ‘We stand up for Mon County kids’, ‘My children, my choice’ and ‘Mountaineers were always free’ as several cars passed by, horns honking in support of the rally.
On Sept. 4, Monongalia County entered the COVID-19 “red” category, causing a cancellation of area high school football games. This announcement came with little warning as several area high school football teams had already begun packing their equipment to head to their first games of the season.
Joseph McBee, a University High School senior and football player, said on the day football games were canceled, his team was just minutes away from boarding the bus to leave for its first game against the Parkersburg South Patriots.
“That was the last time we were able to associate as a team,” McBee said. “We’re not able to practice, we’re not able to do anything.”
Prior to high school athletics being postponed, McBee said the UHS football team had been meeting regularly for practice while following strict guidelines to keep players safe. During practice, he said players were constantly being reminded to spread out and all were required to wear face masks.
McBee said he would like to see equality among all sports teams in the area, including WVU.
“If they really want to stop football in all of the county, it would really tear me apart, but that’s fine,” McBee said. “If WVU is allowed to play, then every other high school, middle school, elementary school should be allowed to play.”
Christopher Simpson, football head coach of Trinity Christian School, said he is not against allowing WVU football to continue; however, he said it should be fair across the board.
“I understand the economic impact WVU football holds, but I also understand the mental impact that not playing sports in the fall means for the kids and the student athletes in high schools,” Simpson said. “We just want the same opportunity WVU has.”
Turney said rallying against the postponement of high school athletics was not the only goal of the gathering. Overall, she said the most important thing is to get students back in the classroom.
“Our kids need to be back in school, especially the younger kids,” Turney said. “They are struggling with this virtual situation.”
Lori Stahara, a resident of Morgantown, said while it is disheartening to see children missing out on a full season of sports, she said another problem is seeing her kids not being able to return to school at all.
Stahara said both of her children are attending school remotely, and she believes the quality of learning is not the same as attending in-person. She said it poses additional learning barriers for them, including the ability to easily communicate with teachers.
“Most of the teachers are just putting a lesson on and telling them to complete it,” Stahara said. “It’s not quality at all.”
Turney said online learning has also created hardships for parents, including requiring some to stay home from work to make sure their young children can stay focused in the new learning environment.
Turney said her children attend UHS, and teachers have been using a video platform to hold courses each day to replicate a typical classroom.
While it creates challenges for both parents and students, she said she thinks teachers are doing their best to provide the same resources and educational opportunities. While her children are able to receive quality education virtually, she said she also recognizes that platform likely does not work for every child.
Turney said attending school could be an outlet or a getaway as it allows them to meet with friends, have access to a hot meal or be able to exercise through extracurriculars.
“Something needs to happen,” Turney said. “It has just been chaos.”