UNC-Chapel Hill football player Tomari Fox (56) and his teammates celebrate their victory over Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Chapel Hill, N.C.(Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP, Pool) Football Returns to North Carolina
UNC-Chapel Hill football player Tomari Fox (56) and his teammates celebrate their victory over Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Chapel Hill, N.C.(Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP, Pool)

For the gridiron fans, a North Carolina teacher explains why game-planning for coronavirus and football are not so far removed.

In football, the choices a team makes in the “red zone” is critically important to winning the game.

During a pandemic, the choices a community makes when it’s in the “red zone” is critically important to tackling the coronavirus.

Last week, Dr. Deborah Birx, of the White House coronavirus task force, visited North Carolina to meet with state officials and discuss our status in the pandemic “red zone”.

As frustrations mount with this stubborn virus, and some flailing leaders press for an ill-advised return to in-person schooling, some North Carolinians are willing to risk safety by aiming for the wrong end zone instead of investing in the long drive to score.

Reopening schools for in-person instruction is everyone’s goal but we must have the right playbook and coaches to make it happen safely.

Blaming local school boards for not yet reopening for in-person classes is like blaming the offensive line for not enough receiving yards – it’s not fully within their control.  If the offensive line is stepping on your toes, remember it’s in the spirit of protecting the quarterback.

Check with the front office – Congress and the NC General Assembly have invoked a self-inflicted salary cap by choosing not to fully fund reopening requirements set forth by North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC.  It’s hard to field the team we need in our schools without their help.

Better yet, ask head coach Trump why he threw away the pandemic playbook and still plays political football with a deadly virus that has afflicted more than 180,000 North Carolinians.  Saying he didn’t want the team to panic isn’t an excuse to not prepare them for the challenge ahead.

In the meantime, Gov. Cooper has been relegated to defensive coordinator to prevent scores of North Carolinians from falling sick with little help from the head coach or front office.

Virtual learning is frustrating and stressful for educators, students and families.  As a high school teacher with more than 100 students and my own kindergartener and third grader at home – I get it.  However telling everyone to huddle up in classrooms on a muddy field with no game plan from team leadership, sparse equipment, and not enough players to cover the field or the inevitable injuries is not a winning strategy.

Now is not the time to relinquish home-field advantage in protecting our communities by sending kids away to school.   

There are bound to be Monday morning quarterbacks second guessing every move made by those on the field.  Some of them are running for office on this hindsight strategy.  The more effectively we tackle this problem, the harder it will be to fully know our success.  It’s difficult to measure lives saved but easy to count lives lost.

We have a shared goal nobody disputes, kids need to return to in-person instruction, so we’re better off teaming up to make it happen rather than find ourselves on opposite sides of the ball with regard to thresholds for patience, timing and safety.

Given the prevalence of COVID-19 in our country, we are playing defense in the red zone, and not very well.  To make it to the other side of the field and reach our desired end zone we all must step up.

We know the three Ws (wash, wear, wait) are a winning strategy but folks need to be more vigilant in limiting their contact with others.  We can’t have turnovers because some folks are complacent in how they carry the ball, and nobody wants to head into overtime because of sloppy execution.

If the quarterback calls an audible in response to the virus’ new formation in the community, it is not betrayal of the initial play call or an attempt to confuse teammates, it is pivoting to a more effective strategy to get to the end zone sooner.

Our children are cheering us on to create conditions where they can safely resume their childhood.

The only “Hail Mary”s we should be launching are sincere prayers for the end of the pandemic matched with actions to make it happen.  

Defense wins championships.