Since COVID-19 shut down schools in March, Alexa Valdivia has wondered what the fall would look like. Valdivia’s mom was diagnosed with cancer last year and is now in remission.
When Knox County Schools announced its virtual option, Valdivia knew she would do it.
“I didn’t really want to get her sick ’cause we didn’t know her defenses and (how) her immune system would react to it,” Valdivia said. “So I always planned on doing virtual just to keep her safe and to keep my grandparents safe as well.”
Valdivia is one of over 18,000 Knox County students who are doing virtual learning for the entire semester. While she’ll learn at home, she and others will still participate in in-person athletics.
Knox News spoke to athletes who said they didn’t want to do virtual but found it to be the safest option.
Jillian O’Dell remembers celebrating a Hardin Valley win against Farragut by blasting “Sweet Caroline” in the locker room and “having the best time.” But now, COVID-19 means student-athletes have to be careful with how they gather, how they practice and how they celebrate.
For O’Dell, she worried about her asthma and what it would mean if she contracted COVID-19.
“If I do online school, I am less likely to get it or transfer it to someone who is at a larger risk and I’m less likely to get it and stop my team’s season,” O’Dell said. “So that way I kind of have my part in preventing our season (to) stop.”
The TSSAA, the state’s governing body for high school athletics, issued a set of safety regulations for athletics in 2020, which it’s asking its member schools to enforce. Among the regulations are temperature checks for all coaches, players and team personnel before every practice, along with weekly screenings for COVID-19 symptoms.
O’Dell’s teammate Marissa Garcia chose virtual because she lives with her uncle who has dementia and her mother, who has diabetes.
“I automatically knew my decision was going to be like, ‘Oh, I’m not going back to school this fall,’ ” Garcia said. “I was pretty bummed out about it, but I knew that it was better to keep my family safe than to go and risk getting them sick just for my benefit.”
O’Dell said virtual might be easier than in-person school at times, but she also said it might be harder to ask for help from a teacher in real time and she might feel like she’s missing out when she sees her friends’ Snapchat stories.
“Everybody on the team, we hold each other accountable. We make sure that we are not going out to places with a whole bunch of people in there,” Garcia said. “We’re all just trying to stay safe so we can play this season.”
Fulton High School football player Antonio Kyle said he was a little nervous to have practice this summer, but once he saw how his coach is trying to keep his team safe, he felt comfortable.
While Kyle was sick of sitting at home and not seeing his friends, he chose to do virtual learning to keep his grandparents safe.
“It was a family decision,” Kyle said. “I didn’t want to do it, but I had to think about it. When you’re talking about the older folks in my family, maybe (in-person schooling wasn’t) the best option.”
For Sidnee Stanton, a Hardin Valley soccer player, her family is the main reason for staying home. Her dad is a teacher and her sister has asthma. Her dad, she said, will be exposed to a lot of people, so she wanted to do her part in not exposing herself to others.
Doing virtual learning was also a mental health decision, Stanton said.
“I’m really, really nervous about just … feeling sort of not how I would normally feel, it’s something that I really don’t want to have to put myself through,” Stanton said. “If there’s a way I can prevent myself from feeling that way, I’m definitely going to try my hardest to not get it.”
Now that her team can do contact practice, Stanton “is really cautious” about what equipment she uses. When she isn’t at practice, she tries to stay at home as much as possible and wear a mask when she does go out.
Aaron Torres contributed to this report.