Colleen Maguire, the first woman to lead the 102-year-old New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, on Tuesday defended the organization’s plans to move forward with fall sports and stressed the importance of competition on the mental and emotional well-being of student-athletes.
In a statement titled The Case for High School Sports, Maguire stressed the need for socialization for young athletes, declining indicators of the spread of the coronavirus, and strict safety protocols instituted by the NJSIAA and followed by high schools in the state.
“Since March, we in New Jersey have done the hard work of trying to contain the virus,” Maguire wrote. “Our leading indicators — rate of transmission, positivity rate and hospital admissions — are all trending down.
“Now is our opportunity to get back to the playing fields.”
Maguire’s statement comes one day after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced plans for its high schools to opt out of fall sports, postponing play for most of the Philadelphia Catholic League.
The PIAA, which oversees high school sports in Pennsylvania, has announced its intention to continue to plan for fall sports while stressing that decisions on whether to play should be made at the district level.
New Jersey plans to put interscholastic sports on hiatus — no practices, no organized workouts, no team meetings — for the first two weeks of September to allow schools and students to focus on the start of the year.
Practices are set to resume Sept. 14, with games in sports such as football, soccer, field hockey, and cross-country set to begin in early October.
“The return to sports this fall — with all games being played outdoors — will be a team effort,” wrote Maguire, who in June was named the NJSIAA’s chief operating officer. “In order to conduct athletics safely, buy-in will be required from all interested parties, particularly our student athletes.
“As part of a team, our student athletes learn to pull for each other, work with each other, and watch out for each other. Now they have incentive to keep each other healthy.
“Partying will be an option for years to come, but there’s only one chance to play sports during high school.”
Maguire cited a recent study from the University of Wisconsin on the mental health impact of the cancellation of youth sports. The report noted that 70% of student-athletes surveyed reported feelings of anxiety and depression that would typically require medical intervention.
She also said that high school sports are different from college sports because of limited travel, adding that the NJSIAA’s plan for fall and winter sports keeps competition in-state and local, with no state championship tournaments.
Maguire wrote that there have been “no known outbreaks precipitated by on-field athletics in New Jersey,” and cited data from TeamSnap, a youth-sports team management application, that more than 100,000 children played organized team sports in New Jersey this summer — “yet there have been no known clusters or spreading of the virus as a result of that activity.”
She wrote, “Indeed, the controlled environment of high school athletics is one of the safest places for our student-athletes to be after the bell rings.”
The NJSIAA canceled the state basketball tournaments in March and shut down the entire spring season.
“Cancelling high school sports has come at a significant cost — the emotional and social well-being of our student-athletes,” Maguire wrote. “We need to return to sports this fall.”
Maguire is a former basketball standout and member of the George Washington University athletic Hall of Fame. A Moorestown resident, she is the mother of three daughters.
“I am honored to help steer NJSIAA through this challenging time,” Maguire wrote. “But I also approach the situation from a different perspective — as a mother. I know I am not the only parent whose heart is breaking, witnessing the toll this pandemic is taking on our kids.