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The VHSL needs to start playing because athletes are already competing

Maybe it’s just time.

Despite what doctors and scientists say about the coronavirus and its ability to easily spread between people, maybe it’s just time to start high school sports.

Damn the virus, go ahead, full speed!

It’s not that our children are any safer than they were in August – they aren’t. It’s that it really doesn’t matter if high school sports start – they’re already happening throughout Hampton Roads with pay-to-play programs.

You’ll find anything from football at Virginia Beach Sportsplex to field hockey at the U.S. Field Hockey Regional Training Center. Soccer programs are moving forward – with the blessing of the governor’s office – and recently a team tennis program and club cross country program were started for high school athletes.

About the only organization that isn’t moving forward is the Virginia High School League, and it’s not moving because it doesn’t have the blessing of the governor’s office. And this isn’t sitting well with high school athletes, coaches, parents or fans. As a matter of fact, there are some within the VHSL membership who have a sense of frustration over the fact that the league hasn’t received approval while pay-to-play programs are moving forward.

The VHSL put together its Championship + 1 schedule and is ready to move forward with high school sports in early December. The delay was established to allow schools to open, get students back in the classroom and to learn how to handle possible outbreaks, busing and any other coronavirus-related issues. This was smart and sports shouldn’t start before December.

But, as we sit here in October, the VHSL is still waiting for guidance. Unless the governor’s office gives its blessing, high school sports can’t happen in Phase 3. As of right now, the VHSL hasn’t heard it cannot play, but it hasn’t received permission either. The league is stuck in limbo.

There needs to be some resolution between the VHSL and the governor’s office, giving people a better picture of what’s going to happen or what needs to happen as we approach December.

If there isn’t any clarity as we enter November, it might be time for the VHSL to take the lead from the pay-to-play folks. The VHSL may need to say, “We’re playing if we have permission or not and if you don’t like it, enforce the rules across the board.” From that point, high school sports will open. The state will be forced to either let the schools play or stop the VHSL – along with everyone else.

In addition, the VHSL can establish state-wide regulations that could help hinder the spread of coronavirus while athletes compete. Will athletes, coaches and referees still get exposed to the virus? It’s a definite possibility. Will it cause spreading to parents or grandparents? It certainly could. Are there dangers to doing this? Undoubtedly. Could schools be forced to shutter again? Yep. But it doesn’t matter.

If the VHSL doesn’t start the kids are just going to sign up

With athletes trained in resilience, Special Olympics helps members maintain mental and physical fitness through virtual events

Michael Heup, a Special Olympics athlete who has become a leading advocate for people with disabilities, took a deep breath as the torch approached. Heup, who started his Special Olympics career in 2001, has previously competed in soccer, basketball, tennis, snowshoe and other events.

“It’s disappointing that we can’t have large-scale events and gatherings, but we are excited to be back doing what we love,” he said. “Sports!”

His teammate behind him threw his fist in the air.

The small gathering stood in stark contrast to the boisterous crowd of thousands of athletes and law enforcement officials who have rallied around the torch lighting each year.

For 50 years, Special Olympics Maryland has fostered community for thousands of people with disabilities. Weekly trainings and annual tournaments have provided opportunities for connection and purpose, inspiring confidence among people historically subjected to social ostracism.

But when the pandemic took hold in March, Special Olympics Maryland, among other chapters nationwide, was forced to cancel practices, basketball tournaments, kayaking championships and its Summer Games.

A spring and summer void of sporting events could have been catastrophic for the nonprofit and those who rely on it. But instead, it blossomed into a vibrant virtual community buoyed by the signature fortitude of its athletes.

Over the last six months, state chapters of the Special Olympics have launched a series of virtual events that have helped maintain active routines for hundreds of thousands of people with intellectual and physical disabilities. In Maryland, Special Olympics leadership spearheaded weekly online fitness classes. And they launched walk, run and biking challenges, customizing a mobile app to track activity. They have also established online social clubs, including one that throws a virtual dance party every Saturday night.

“What we offer at Special Olympics, it is an essential part of our athletes’ social interaction,” said Jim Schmutz, president and CEO of Special Olympics Maryland. “But what you and I have experienced in the pandemic as it relates to isolation is more close to what our athletes experience historically on a daily basis. So in some cases, our athletes have adapted better than anyone.”

Monique Matthews, a 30-year-old athlete from Baltimore, has been a regular track-and-field competitor with the Special Olympics for eight years. Before the pandemic, she spent many of her days looking forward to Tuesdays and Saturdays, when she would meet with her friends to hone her running skills.

While she noticed people around her mourn the loss of their routines, Matthews simply found new ones online when the public health crisis mandated isolation.

“I just don’t look at it as a pandemic. I look at it as an opportunity to get to know myself better,” she said.

Once shy and afraid to speak her mind, Matthews has taken advantage of the comfortable virtual environment to become a leader among athletes statewide. Over the last six months, she has started leading Zoom sessions about police brutality and teaching online exercise classes that leave fellow athletes sweaty and tired.

“Right now, I

Troubling Sleep Disorder in Athletes a Sign of CTE?

Rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is surprisingly common in athletes and may signal chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) caused by brainstem tau and Lewy body pathologies, new research suggests.

CTE is a neurodegenerative disorder linked to years of repetitive head impacts from playing professional football and other contact sports.

“Repetitive head impacts may damage sleep-relevant brainstem nuclei and lead to REM sleep behavior disorder,” senior author Thor Stein, MD, PhD, neuropathologist at VA Boston Healthcare in Massachusetts, said in a webinar hosted by the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

“This is something both athletes and their doctors need to be aware of,” added Stein, who is an assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

The findings were published online September 17 in Acta Neuropathologica.

Surprising Findings

In RBD, the paralysis that normally occurs during REM sleep is incomplete or absent, causing people to act out their dreams by talking, flailing their arms and legs, punching, kicking and other behaviors while asleep. 

“The disorder often comes to medical attention when there is an injury or potential for injury to the individual or the individual’s bed partner,” Stein noted.

To investigate ties between CTE and RBD, the researchers analyzed the brains of 247 deceased male athletes who played contact sports; the brains were donated to the Veterans Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation (VA-BU-CLF) Brain Bank.

The athletes died at a mean age of 63 years. They all had a neuropathological diagnosis of CTE. Their relatives provided information on sleep.

Nearly one third of these athletes (n = 80, 32%) with CTE displayed symptoms characteristic of RBD when they were alive. “That really surprised us,” said Stein. “This is about 30 times more than what’s reported in the general population, where it has been estimated to be present in about 1% of people,” he noted.

In addition, there was a clear dose-response effect. Athletes with CTE and RBD had played contact sports for significantly more years than their peers without RBD (18.3 vs 15.1 years; P = .02). 

“The odds of reporting RBD symptoms increased about 4% per year of play,” first author Jason Adams, an MD/PhD student now at the University of California San Diego, said in a statement.

New Insight

The results also point to a potential cause for RBD.

Compared with athletes who had CTE and no RBD, those with CTE and RBD were four times more likely to have tau pathology within brainstem nuclei involved in REM sleep (odds ratio [OR], 3.96; 95% CI, 1.43 – 10.96; P = .008). Athletes with CTE and RBD were also more likely to have Lewy body pathology (OR, 2.36; 95% CI, 1.18 – 4.72; P = .02).

“Contrary to our expectations, tau pathology in the raphe nuclei was more strongly associated with RBD than Lewy body pathology, suggesting that tau pathology is more likely to lead to sleep dysfunction in CTE,” Stein said.

Christopher John Nowinski, PhD, cofounder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said this study