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Recruitment struggles amid COVID-19

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Missouri Southern athletes returned for their fall semester with an aura of uncertainty and disappointment as COVID-19 postponed sports again, until 2021.

The NCAA announced sports were to be postponed for DII and DIII athletes for the protection of student athletes, coaches, and the communities against the coronavirus pandemic.

Southern’s athletic department had no choice but to follow suit and obey the postponing orders.

While COVID-19 and the NCAA’s decision has affected student athletes on the college level, athletes at local high schools are continuing to play as MSHSAA allows local schools to make the decision.

Athletic Director of Webb City High School, John Roderique, is unsure as to why high school athletes are still playing even though Southern and Pittsburg State have postponed sports until 2021, but he feels as though playing sports gives the athletes something to do.

“All athletes and coaches wear masks except when they are playing,” said Roderique.

He said other measures Webb City High School has upheld to decrease the spread of the COVID-19 such as utilizing social distancing and practicing proper sanitation techniques.

Head Football Coach at Joplin High School, Curtis Jasper, has been doing his best to decrease the spread of the COVID-19 s for his team as well.

“Our practices are in segments of five minutes and our meeting times are shorter,” Jasper said.

The measures might have not allowed the Joplin Eagles football players the same amount of time to practice as they have had in the past, but that didn’t stop them from winning their first game of the season against the Webb City Cardinals 41-40, followed by a close loss to Nixa 34-35.

One of the aspects of high school sports is the chance to be recruited by college coaches, but it is unclear how the suspension of fall sports amongst universities will impact high school students who are anticipating scouting and scholarship opportunities after they graduate.

Roderique is unsure how COVID-19 will affect scouting and scholarship opportunities, however, Jasper felt as though the college sports shutting down will have a positive effect on high school students being recruited because there would be more time and opportunities for college coaches to scout.

What Roderique and Jasper aren’t considering is the amount of current college athletes who have decided to add on another year to their time in school so that they have the opportunity to play when sports come back to Southern.

Several local high schools are seeing an increase in the number of players on their football teams, which also affects how many players can be scouted by Southern.

According to MaxPreps, America’s source for high school sports, Joplin High School has 117 football players, which is one more than last year, and Webb City is seeing 18 more players than last year bringing them up to 112 players.

Carthage and Neosho have also seen an increase in their numbers of high school football players.

The Carthage Tigers had 22 players in 2019 and have nearly tripled their number of players this year with 62 student athletes.

The Neosho Wildcats have doubled their football players from last year’s 45 students to 110 in 2020.

Jeff Sims, Southern’s head football coach, is concerned with how the inflation of high school athletes aiming to be recruited in relation to the college athletes planning to return when sports continue will affect scholarship and recruitment opportunities.

“It definitely will affect the number as scholarship opportunities will be harder to come by,” said Sims. “I would encourage all athletes that are currently at a university or looking to move from high school to a university to play their sport to make sure your grades and work ethic are in line because coaches definitely have more student athletes that want the opportunity than we currently have opportunities to offer.”

There is hope for college and high school athletes holding onto the idea that sports will continue in 2021, but it isn’t certain.

“It’s harder to get a true evaluation of athletes with 2021 camps, practices, and games all being up in the air,” said Sims.

 Uncertainty about whether or not sports will come back in 2021 is only part of the problem. 

“Even with the evaluations, the question is where do you fit their class into your team when you already are predominantly full with everyone coming back for the 2021 season?” said Sims.

Another issue for high school athletes is how pushing back sports conflicts with pre-set schedules.

“Games pushed back to the spring conflict with our spring schedule for practices and recruiting class deadlines,” said Sims.

With a tight schedule and a large number of eligible recruits, there are big decisions to be made with little time to make them.

The increase of high school football players might be a result of students being relieved that they’re no longer in quarantine, however, with more players, there is more opportunity for COVID-19 to spread.

If any high school athletes test positive for the COVID-19, “they will be isolated and quarantined at the will of the health department, but we will follow guidelines as they are given to us,” said Roderique.

While COVID-19 continues to threaten normalcy, local high school football players will take advantage of playing the sport they love, and fans will show up to support them.

“If student athletes are having a positive experience, that will spread, and more will want to be a part of it,” said Jasper.

Recruitment struggles amid COVID-19

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