I was driving from Nashville to Birmingham in 2011 when I got a phone call from a student who wanted me to start a fishing team at our school.
Sounded simple, and I told him that I would do my best to make sure it happened.
Looking back 9 years later, it was one of the best things I ever did. There have been so many positive things about being an early participant of the growth of high school fishing in the state of Alabama.
There has been way more positive memories than negative.... it has been a joy!
Along the way, I discovered something I had never truly considered... and that is the importance of managing risk in the development of teenagers. As a long time football coach, I had grown accustomed to the idea that the activities we do on a regular basis can result in injury and pain. I have had the terrible experiences of visiting football players in the hospital for various reasons in the past and I have had players get career ending injuries over the years.
And football can be deadly:
The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research publishes one of the most widely referenced annual studies on the subject of football deaths in the US. Its surveys use reports from coaches and other athletic department staff members across the country, as well as media reports and independent research.
According to its 2017 report, more than 4 million kids and young people played some form of organized football that year. Of them, 13 reportedly died as a direct or indirect result of play: four direct and nine indirect. The survey defines "direct" as traumatic results of on-field play: spinal cord injuries, organ lacerations, head injuries and the like. "Indirect" deaths are caused by systemic failures because of exertion: heatstroke and most incidences of cardiac arrest, for example.
That means, for 2017, the the rate of direct fatalities was 0.095 per 100,000 players, and the rate of indirect fatalities was 0.21 per 100,000 players.
It is hard to get a firm number, but the demographic characteristics of decedents reported through national COVID-19 case-based and supplemental surveillance, by data source — United States, February 12–May 18, 2020 for individuals UNDER 18 years of age is 19 people (< 0.1)
So statistically, the risk of serious injury from playing football is very close to serious complications from the virus (yes, I know it can be transferred to someone with worse odds)
Even with those numbers, the fishing team activities seemed riskier to me. Towing a 2500 lb. boat on the interstate and backroads has danger. Putting that boat on the water and blasting off to your first fishing spot at 70 mph in low light conditions can raise the blood pressure.
I also have had the misfortune of having two of my anglers get hooks in them. One in the head and another one in the eyes!.... that one ended up at the Callahan Eye Clinic in Birmingham and, thankfully, ended well.
Any search of the news will also confirm the ultimate tragedy in the sports of fishing.... there have been young anglers lose their lives in terrible accidents, some preventable and others not.
What do we make of this?
Life incurs risk..... every single day.
I have found great joy in teaching young people how to mitigate risks through responsibility, education, and practice. It is a part of maturity and it actually inspires them!
I have seniors who can back a boat up into a space with only inches of margin. I am proud to see them respect the danger enough to take precautions. And as they manage risk, they grow more courageous and confident.
Unfortunately, I am not seeing this spirit being acquiesced during this time of planning and decision making in the midst of the current pandemic. This is a general statement of course.... there are exceptions.
But this 'spirit of timidity' and sadly, "spirit of divisiveness' is a combination of things:
- Fear of litigation has hampered decisions of mitigation.
- REAL DANGER- this virus is not a hoax folks.
- TOUGH CULTURE- every spoken opinion can turn toxic
I will continue to coach football and fishing- as I do, I have to look each parent in the eye and commit to them to do all I can to keep their child safe.... but I cannot PROMISE to keep them from harm.
We can't risk proof life, nor can we make any school Covid-19 free.
And I do understand we are trying to help protect the vulnerable....
The honest question is this....are shutdowns and austere measures on the mass populace the answer?
Every day- if God allows.... we wake up to new opportunities and risk.
This world can be a mean and scary place.... terrorists still plan and wait for opportunities... as do thieves and sex traffickers.
There are cruel people who harass and bully; harmful people who would injure you to simply take care of themselves.
We think we are secure- but the supply chain of both food and water could be suddenly interrupted. We have sworn enemies of our way of life who have mass weapons of destruction pointed right at us.
There are unseen contaminants, carcinogens, deadly bacteria and viruses moving in and out of your body on a constant basis.
If you dwell on these things you will want to run and hide.... that is what fear does.
But no- that is not how we are supposed to live.
We walk with wisdom- we look both ways before we cross a street, we don't play with fire, and we wash our hands and brush our teeth.
We surround ourselves with a loving community of family and friends and we hope to lean on them during times of crisis.
We make plans and have action steps if our house catches on fire.
I teach kids how to tackle with their eyes up and not hit with their head first.
I ask them to wear sunglasses to protect their eyes when fishing and to be careful when casting... especially with treble hooks.
I teach my children how to be aware of their surroundings, where to park, and how to protect themselves.
Here is a strange statement for this post.... I even understand there may be a day where I have to act in 'civil disobedience'- but it is based on principle AND it means I am subject to the consequences of those actions.
But the truly bottom line? I NEED to trust in my heavenly Father... what does He tell me to do and how to live-
 “Therefore I (Jesus) tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25–34 ESV)
mitigate... not subjugate
mitigate..... not risk proof life
mitigate.... not live in fear
mitigate.... not attack others
mitigate.... not forsake our duty to live by faith.
And then let's carry on in confidence, service, compassion, and hope!