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Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter / McCallie School football coach Ralph Potter

Ralph Potter had had enough.

Increasingly bothered by all the negativity he was hearing and reading regarding the impact the coronavirus pandemic could have on the upcoming school year, especially the possible cancellation of high school sports, the McCallie School football coach began to put his thoughts on the subject in a letter.

"I actually wrote it last week," Potter said Tuesday afternoon. "In all the arguments I'd heard since the pandemic began, I just felt like there wasn't enough emphasis being placed on what's being lost."

So the coach of the 2019 TSSAA Division II-AAA state champion Blue Tornado, a longtime history and leadership class teacher who's also been either an assistant or head high school football coach for more than 35 years (also winning a state title at McCallie in 2001), wrote the letter to end all letters, one filled with eloquence and wisdom, posting it on Facebook on Monday afternoon.

By Tuesday it had not only generated more than 1,000 shares on various platforms, it had become an hour-long feature on Clay Travis's national radio show based in Nashville, where Travis proclaimed, "My God, this is well said. It will make you feel a little bit like you want to run through a brick wall, which is what the best coaches — high school, college, pro, Little League — do."

All this from someone who normally cares as much for social media as he does a quarterback plagued by fumbleitis.

"My wife had to show me how to post it," the 57-year-old Potter said. "And I wanted to be careful what I said. I told the school about it last week. I had some help from them in editing it."

The whole letter is outstanding, but several points deserve special mention, beginning with the second paragraph, which states, in part: "I know two things for sure. First, there is a deep, even visceral need among them to return to normalcy. Second, there is an absolute willingness to take whatever steps necessary to make a full return possible. They are anxious to be instructed on what they need to do to protect themselves, their family, and each other."

As a high school teacher and coach of high school students, I’d like to add my voice to the debate concerning reopening...

Posted by Ralph Potter on Monday, July 20, 2020

There was also this, just in case anyone thinks Potter hasn't assessed all the arguments from all sides: "There is no doubt that this pandemic is real, is an ongoing threat, and is a great tragedy. If we simply look at rates of positive tests and the total number of deaths, the easier answer is to say we should shut down schools and sports until we get a vaccine. But there are high costs to be paid. Too high, I think.

"Many of these costs are being talked about frequently. They include mountainous debt, millions suffering in poor countries, significant rises in teenage depression, drug use, and suicide, and loss of academic and social development."

But Potter cautions, again in part: "These don't describe the whole story. When a young man goes through a football season, he is at a formative stage. They go through many unpredictable emotions. They win; they lose; they become a star; they lose their starting position; they struggle with jealousy, disappointment, elation, and success; they learn to love the people that annoy them. Yes, it is just football, but it is real. They begin to understand what we mean by communion, that we are each responsible for one another, that we are not alone, that we are not an island.

"This is what goes on every day in our classrooms and playing fields all over our country. You rarely hear about it, because destruction is easier and gets more clicks than construction. But it is there and by it our society coheres."

He later writes: "It is said that God is the source of all being, that His love is constantly creating the world, creating us. If that's true, then evil is something like the absence of being, a void, a nothingness where life should have been. That's what this is like. What these young people lose, they will never get back, and the longer this goes on, the more catastrophic the loss becomes."

He concluded the letter thusly: "We have to begin to think of what the world looks like if Covid-19 never goes away. Let the young people be raised and formed. The risk to them is minimal. Protect the most vulnerable. Please let them go to school. Let them play."

To help that along, the McCallie players are practicing in masks, bringing their own water, entering and exiting the locker room in shifts, one-third of the team at a time. Temperatures are taken before each workout. Footballs are cleaned more than once a day with Dawn dishwashing detergent. All weights and training equipment are routinely sprayed down with disinfectant.

Said Potter with something of a chuckle regarding the return to workouts: "We haven't even talked football yet."

It makes you wonder if we haven't gone too far with our concerns, becoming too obsessed with destruction rather than construction. At least where our young people are concerned. As Travis pointed out during his radio show, it's hard to find one young athlete who has been hospitalized with COVID-19, much less had serious complications.

For proof, of the 346 NBA players tested in the past week, there were zero positives. Baseball is seeing similar good news, MLB reporting last Friday that there were but six positive tests — five by players — among 10,548 samples. So maybe there's still hope for the playing of all sports, with or without the crowds.

"If we knew this would be over in six months, I'd say, 'Let's wait it out,'" Potter said. "But we don't know that. We don't know the end point to this. Let's not sacrifice the next generation."

From logic such as that could a lot of figurative brick walls currently blocking the playing of sports soon come tumbling down.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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