FORT KNOX, Ky. — By the time the 2020-21 academic school year kicked off at Fort Knox Middle High School in August 2020, student athletes had already received news that many school sports were effectively cancelled.
The decision was due to the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with safety concerns by leaders at Department of Defense Schools Americas. Hopeful seniors watched as some schools in Kentucky took to the field in the midst of the restrictions.
“This has been a challenging year,” said Jackie Prather, the school’s athletic director. “Student athletes have struggled with the decision for DoDEA to not allow most sports this year. I believe everyone did a great job accepting this, but it’s still difficult for the student athletes seeing those from the surrounding schools getting to play.”
Prather said hardest hit were probably the football and basketball programs.
“Those are the most prominent sports in Kentucky so losing the ability to participate in those was hard,” said Prather. “But, again, I think everyone did well with the adjustment and challenges, knowing it was due to the pandemic.”
Leaders explained that the reason why fall sports didn’t make the cut during the school year was because of the nature of how the games are played. Football and basketball and close-in contact sports, which posed a real threat for transmission of the virus from player to player.
National and regional news agencies highlighted concerns as many professional athletes in some of the restricted sports tested positive for the virus.
Spring sports, on the other hand, seemed to fit better in allowing students to compete safely with a much lower risk of infection. Those sports included track and field and swimming.
“Given the pandemic, I think we did fairly well,” said Prather. “Here at Fort Knox, we are always in the ‘rebuilding’ phase because so many of our athletes move due to PCS or retirements.”
The swim team, which has enjoyed a recent history of successes, didn’t disappoint this year. They actually participated in state qualifiers for the first time since 2013. Prather said some athletes also did well in track events, although she warned against looking at stats and brackets for success.
“I am a firm believer that you cannot simply look at the win/loss record to determine success,” said Prather. “We look at where we started on the first day of season, and where we are at the end. When you do that, you see a tremendous amount of growth.”
Despite the setbacks, a recent announced from DoDEA created excitement among next year’s seniors: fall sports are coming back.
“DoDEA just approved that within the last few days,” said Josh Adams, superintendent, Kentucky Schools-Community at DoDEA. “Before that was approved, the schools worked very hard in partnership with the Garrison, Public Health, and the Garrison command to develop really thorough mitigation plans to ensure we’ll still have safety in the fall with all of our school sports.”
Prather said there is a level of enthusiasm growing among the student athletes.
“I am very excited about this!” she exclaimed. “I know our kids will be super excited to get out and participate. I haven’t heard much chatter about it yet, but I expect to start hearing the excitement in the next few days.”
Adams warned that the return of fall sports is not necessarily a 100% guarantee.
“All this is dependent upon where we are with COVID overall in the fall,” said Adams. “We have full approval right now, but we will be reviewing COVID data throughout the summer and fall to ensure we can continue with this.”
Prather said she is hoping the approval remains in place.
“I believe sports are in integral part of childhood development,” she said. “So with the return of sports, I anticipate a much happier student population next year.”