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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Friday night lights dim

by John Brummett | July 22, 2021 at 3:02 a.m.

Are you ready for some football? So, get vaccinated, then.

If that form of encouragement won't work, then nothing short of Donald Trump touring the state with a vaccine van, giving autographs for shots, might.

Until this right-wing revolt into insane resentment of a simple, safe and uncommonly effective vaccine took hold, nothing more defined rural Arkansas than high school football on Friday nights.

High school sports are overseen in the state by the nonprofit organization called the Arkansas Activities Association. Perhaps you'll be interested in a memorandum sent by the AAA last week to school districts.

It said: "Last year the vast majority of games, matches, etc., were canceled due to quarantines, not positive cases. The CDC, Arkansas Department of Health and the governor's office have all stated that the standard for this school year is [that] all school-aged students 12 years old and up that are fully vaccinated no longer have to quarantine after exposure to someone with covid-19. They can continue attending school and participating in extracurricular activities. The AAA office encourages everyone who is 12 years and up and eligible to get vaccinated."

So, here's how that would work: A player would test positive for the virus. All teammates coming into contact with him--and unvaccinated--would have to stay away for a time from school and football practice and any games taking place within the quarantine period.

Football players tend to come in close contact. Most likely, considering the current situation, so many exposed players would be unvaccinated and thus sidelined that the week's game would have to be canceled, especially among some of these small-school teams.

Friday night's lights would darken across a mournful state.

And why? It would happen because one unvaccinated player got the virus at school because unvaccinated students gave it to him--perhaps having caught it from their unvaccinated parents.

And it would happen because few students were voluntarily wearing masks, mandates for which Act 1002 of the recent legislative session forbids--at school, that is, though not in prisons.

On Tuesday, Dr. Jose Romero, the mild-mannered and beleaguered state health secretary, said he fully expects a surge of cases in school this fall based on the state's vaccination and mask performance and on this summer's record of closed day-care centers and summer camps because of outbreaks.

Romero made the statement at an event at which state health officials predicted a growing health crisis--a surge on top of a surge--into the school year, leading to a compounding crisis in hospital care entirely the result of people not having the sense to come in out of the virus and get a shot, or two, that I didn't even feel.

I don't want to mislead. I did feel a little overnight upper-arm soreness. If it was from a government-inserted tracking device, the thing settled down in a matter of hours. I can only assume it's been tracking me in this chair, and on treks downstairs to the refrigerator, since that time.

A surge on top of a surge seems rather problematic when Tuesday's new infections totaled over 1,800 and only 43 intensive-care beds were said to be available statewide.

By the way, Romero is, beyond being the Health Department administrator, a pediatric infectious disease specialist. So, yeah, what would a deep-state conspirator like that know about viruses spreading among children at school?

All the foregoing assumes that the state Legislature will not call itself back to Little Rock to resume its merely suspended session and pass a bill saying that, in the event of a high school football player's testing positive for covid this fall, the player and all his unvaccinated and unmasked teammates would remain free, fully eligible, and would be required to huddle up for the bonding experience of breath-sharing at close range, presumably with face masks removed from helmets owing to the removal of any mandate.

I fear I may be assuming too much by declaring such legislation unlikely.

Seriously: It comes down to a simple proposition. Do you want a regular full high school football season with regular full rosters and certainties of Friday night joy? Then get up off your behind and go set the stage for it.

Parents need only to get vaccinated and haul their kids older than 12 along for the shared experience.

Grumble about it if you must. Call it a hoax. Send Trump a note saying you're sorry you caved.

Just get the shot--all students, parents, all players--so that God will be in his heaven over the dimly lit gridirons of rural Arkansas this autumn.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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