Winter mask mandates create mixed feelings among athletes


Anderson Free

Athletes for winter sports likely welcomed the news of a full winter season after playing shorter schedules last year due to the pandemic. Despite this return to normalcy, however, students still face one significant obstacle—masks.

The MIAA guidelines for this season require that for any indoor sport, all student athletes, coaches, and referees must wear a mask at all times, regardless of the sport, or what venue the event takes place in.

“Nobody really wants to wear them,” said athletic director Mike Jackson. “I do think people understand why they are wearing them, and the safety value of having them on, but I’d be kidding to tell you that people want to wear them.”

While there was a mask mandate in place during the fall season, the majority of sports took place outdoors where masks were not required. The winter season will be the first this year to see widespread mask usage.

Many agree that masks prohibit athletes from performing to the best of their ability, some to the point where they get in the way of their performance more than they protect them from the virus. Junior Jack Mantell, a captain of boys’ indoor track, said, “In such a tense cardiovascular activity as in a running race, masks I would argue do more damage to the sport than they do protecting us.” 

Regarding masks’ effect on athletic performance, Jackson added, “I think it would be naive of me to think that it doesn’t, but other than freshmen, a lot of kids are two years into this now, so with the sports that they played last year, they had to play with masks on. I’m sure from a cardio standpoint, it is having some effect on our athletes, but it is where we are with the mandate, and it has to be done.”

Though the mask mandate undoubtedly affects many of the winter sports, some sports, particularly hockey, may not be as affected as others. Senior Tyler Bean, a member of boys’ hockey, said, “I don’t feel like it is much of a pain, especially with masks that can attach to your helmet cage instead of your face, and then are a bit less in the way.”

The mask mandate will also apply to fans, and with the recent rise in COVID-19 cases new restrictions have been put in place. Sports taking place on campus will be limited to two parents/guardians per athlete. In addition, the indoor track teams will be allowed no spectators, although that restriction has been in place since the beginning of the season, and will be for at least the next couple of weeks, according to the Board of Health and Administration, and Newton North high school parols.

“We have to protect our student athletes and our student population, and people that are coming to games,” said Jackson. “We are going to be enforcing the mask mandate as best we can at our events, just because we want to keep people safe.”

With the emergence of the new Omicron variant, there is a fear that this mandate will be a part of the sports for the foreseeable future. Jackson said, “This is strictly my speculation, but I just have a feeling with this thing mutating, it seems almost year to year and may become the way of life.”

In an effort to help its athletes, the school has bought masks designed to improve performance. The athletic department has provided them to a few of the winter teams already this season.

“If it is something that will help our athletes, we are willing to purchase some of these masks that will help them breathe a little bit better,” he said. “As a former athlete, I can’t imagine playing with a mask on, so I want to try and help our athletes as best I can with performing while still being safe.”