Exuberant youth

Yesterday afternoon we went for a walk on the trails behind Terra Sancta retreat center, which is next to St. Martin’s Monastery. The community has a couple of miles of hiking trails and we rarely encounter other walkers when we are getting our exercise on the hills behind the retreat center. The walk winds up the hill behind the chapel and we could hear the birds in the trees as we walked through the trees. As we wandered we could periodically also hear the sounds of a football practice taking place on the field next to St. Elizabeth Seton Elementary School. From a distance it appeared that the players were a bit older than the K-6th-graders of Seton School. I speculated that they might be students from St. Thomas More Middle School which is in town. It is likely that the high school football team was using the field near the Middle and High Schools and the middle school players were using the field next to the elementary school. At any rate, we could hear the coaches shouting and occasionally a player would make an especially good play and the whole group would erupt into cheering. They were shouting pretty loud and we heard a few hoarse voices. Clearly it was an exuberant group enjoying a beautiful autumn day, with temperatures nearing 80 degrees.

The walk got me to thinking about all of the middle and high school athletic programs that are usually going full steam by this time of the year. Educators have long known that most students need a balance of academic and physical education in order to achieve their personal best. Our rapidly changing world means that students experience a lot of different stressors in their lives. In order to focus on their academic work, they sometimes need physical activities to work out some of that stress. Competitive sports are one of the ways that schools seek to provide for the activities that students need.

Of course no school can provide for every need of every student. Engaged parents find that supplementing the school program with community sports, private dance programs and activities at the YMCA or youth clubs are often helpful in the overall development of their children.

With the pandemic continuing to ravage our country and our own state remaining among the highest in the nation for new infections, there is considerable concern about activities such as team sports. It is easy to imagine a single asymptomatic youth infecting an entire team while playing close contact sports such as football. However, the schools are under pressure from parents and students to return to as many activities as possible. Like the public schools, the students in the Catholic School System are dealing with a multi-tiered program of in-person learning, hybrid learning and remote learning. Students are practicing social distancing and wearing cloth face masks.

It was, however, pretty obvious to us as we looked down on the football field that there are limits to the social distancing in the team practice. We weren’t close enough to the field to see whether or not the players were wearing masks. While school officials are trying their best to take precautions and provide for the safety of students, it isn’t possible to avoid all risk in school programs.

We believe in the power of public education and during our time of living in Rapid City we have not focused as much attention on the private schools as we have on the public schools. We have known students who have attended the private schools and know of the quality education that is available form those schools. But we also know that a community has a responsibility to provide education to all of the children, not just the ones from certain families. Public education is necessary to a functioning democracy and a healthy community. Education is a huge factor in the ability of people to thrive and succeed in life. We have often prayed for our public schools, students, teachers and administrators during our annual 40 days of prayer for children.

Since we are praying for all children, it just makes sense that we join our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in praying for the students and teachers of the Catholic School System as well.

I have a good friend who is a coach in the St. Thomas More varsity football program. I’ve had many conversations with him about the hours he dedicates to working with the students, traveling to their games and planning for the program. He often speaks of the dedicated volunteers who help to make the program run smoothly. I haven’t been in touch with that particular friend this fall and so I don’t know the specifics of how the football program is being incorporated into the school’s programs, but it was evident from our walk yesterday that the season has not been cancelled entirely.

Gracious God, we offer our prayers for all of the student athletes, their coaches and the many volunteers who provide for the physical exercise and team programs of our schools. We know that your promise of shalom is a promise of physical health as well as emotional and mental health. Growing bodies need safe places to exercise and stretch. Programs that provide for physical exercise and team building help to enhance the quality of life for students. We give you thanks for the athletic programs of our schools and all of the people who dedicate their time to those programs.

Keep our students safe. May they play without fear and enjoy the health benefits of their participation. Keep the adults who work with the children safe as well. May they find balance between risk and reasonable precaution so that guidance for students will provide for safety and good health. May all who participate in the programs of the schools enjoy your blessings in ways that enable them to share those blessings with others.

May our prayers be as genuine and as exuberant as the youth who were playing on the field yesterday. Amen.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!