High schoolers in drama and music programs that have been shut down by the pandemic should be able to resume performing. (Shutterstock)

High schoolers in drama and music programs that have been shut down by the pandemic should be able to resume performing. (Shutterstock)

High school sports return, but performing arts don’t — why?

By Ralph E. Shaffer

Under new rules for high schools, athletes in California can return to practice and competition this spring as a result of a law suit involving two San Diego football seniors. The news was welcomed by athletes sidelined for nearly a year, but raises serious questions about the favoritism shown to sports playing kids while ignoring those students whose interests lie in the performing arts. They are still benched!

On Feb. 23, Gov. Gavin Newsom caved in to those demanding thereturn of athletic competition in the public schools. The governor allowed the return of sports competition to football and other outdoor sports, and still restricted indoor contact sports.

That changed dramatically when in early March that San Diego lawsuit was settled, allowing the return of all high school sports, though with some slight restrictions. As part of the settlement, the state will pay for weekly Covid testing of the athletes, and for tests prior to competition. Masks will be worn on the bench by the players, but not on the field.

Advocates for a return of high school athletics offered several arguments for lifting the ban. The kids needed the outlet to cope with the stress brought on by the pandemic and their inability to socialize with classmates. Seniors, particularly, were harmed by their inability to perform on the field at a time when college recruiters would be watching them with financially attractive scholarships waiting. Mental stress, which would normally be alleviated by playing, was becoming evident in the kids. And the sports camps that many attended during the summer were cancelled last year and might have been canceled again this year,

That was the case for the return of high school sports. It is also much the same argument why the performing arts ought to have been included in the governor’s original reversal and in the law suit settlement.

Performing arts programs have been as hard hit by the pandemic as sports.

Each year, bands and orchestras at California high schools and junior highs perform an annual concert, in addition to performing regularly at school assemblies, in smaller ensembles for community organizations, and at graduations and other ceremonies. The bands march in numerous parades, and with luck they might make a Rose Parade.

But not this past year. The senior quarterback may have lost his chance to perform before a university scout, but the senior soprano never got to sing her farewell concert before classmates, parents and friends. The lead in “Our Town” was silent last spring, and again this spring, as high schools canceled plays, debates and speech contests. This year the girls from Huntington Park didn’t get a chance to trounce the guys from Beverly Hills High in a regional debate.

Sports camps were shuttered, but so were in person music camps along the Russian River and at Idyllwild. The talented kids who were usually employed to assist at the music camps had no jobs to go to, and lost out on the money that might have paid for their college tuition. A virtual music camp is better than none, but it lacks the camaraderie that is enjoyed by sharing a summer’s week with fellow musicians.

In an effort to keep the performing arts alive, novel arrangements have been tried. At Charter Oak High in Covina, the choir director successfully managed to have a forty member choir sing virtually from home, all recorded on a video by each student, and then pieced together by the choir director, The result was amazing, as a complicated song was sung without error. Here is the link: https://youtu.be/IvJvydLSO3U

Sports parents are better organized than arts parents. They obviously shout louder and are more likely to be heard. Their cause, however, is no more worthy than that of the kids in the performing arts.

The governor and the California Department of Public Health, both of which bowed to the rant of the bleacher crowd, ought to be as willing to provide financial aid in the form of testing to allow music, drama and debate to resume on the same terms as athletics. Failure to do that is a slap at the academic side of a high school education.

Ralph E. Shaffer is professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona who can be reached at reshaffer@cpp.edu.

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