'Swine Flu' & sports: Consumed by competition

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - High school coaches throughout the state of Arkansas and Missouri are looking at procedures in dealing with the H1N1 virus among student-athletes. According to Nettleton School Superintendent Darrel Dover, the school has been trying to maintain cleanliness in locker rooms and gymnasiums. Dover said Nettleton does not have a policy that says a student has to be in school to participate in athletic events on the same day. School districts have allowed students the privilege to participate in after-school events despite sickness in the past.

"We've had cases where they had to miss for funerals, doctor's appointments and things of that nature. Obviously, we want our students in the classroom as much as possible," said Dover.

Region 8 News talked to Nettleton High School Football Head Coach Donnie Tennison and Sr. High Dance Team Coach Lynn Cooper about what they do to ensure the safety of all student-athletes if one person becomes sick.

"Our main goal is to make sure that if they are sick, that they stay home. Do what the doctors tell them too. The doctors tell them to stay home and rest and don't come to school until 24 hours after fever stops," said Cooper.

"You have those kids that would be about half dead and want to play and get out there, so you have to kind of sometimes just tell them to go home and get some rest. Come back tomorrow," said Tennison.

Cooper, who teaches 34 girls how to dance competitively, said four girls were sick Tuesday. The dance team will compete in the Dance Team Invitational Competition in Bryant, Arkansas October 10.

"Dance is very much a full group sport where everybody participates, so we definitely want to have them here. But if they are ill and sick, then we won't have them here," said Cooper. "When you go to competition, you don't want to have holes. We'll just keep our fingers crossed between now and Saturday that everybody gets over what they got right now."

Cooper said she keeps an eye on sick dancers because they are more likely to spread illnesses.

"The girls are often close in a lot of the dance moves that they do. They get into groups or do group activities, so there is a lot of closeness as well as a lot of long practices," said Cooper.

Dover told Region 8 News Tuesday if a student-athlete wants to participate, then the final decision is up to coaches and parents. Doctors can also have a say in the matter if they are involved.

"Cleanliness is probably the most important thing you can do and obviously not to drink after each other, not to share things, and if we have a student sick, we try to have them stay at home," said Dover. "That's just the reality that kids want the best players they have out there to play. To be honest with you, I think it probably never enters the mind of an athlete if another one is sick that they're going to get it. I think that they're consumed by the competition."

Dover said most student-athletes want to compete despite sickness because of their mentality.

"When you get in the moment of competition, you want all hands on deck and I think that probably never enters the mind of an athlete," said Dover. "A kid can play as long as it's not going to cause any further damage, and it's the same thing with illness. You have to look at that if he plays, could it lead to more serious consequences?"

Tennison said several of his players were sick at the beginning of the season. Most didn't have flu-like symptoms, but many players had an upset stomach and one had mono.

"Leading up to the first game, like a couple of weeks, we had actually had a couple of weeks of pre-practice and about the time school started, we started seeing a rash of sicknesses," said Tennison.

"Your goal is to try to have them ready by Friday night and so if they're sick during the week, you don't want to sit there and make them worse so they can't play at all Friday," said Tennison.

Tennison said some players, when sick, are limited on the amount of time they're on the playing field.

"You don't want them, if they're too sick, being around everybody else and getting them sick. So it can kind of be tricky sometimes," said Tennison.

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