Students stayed engaged in sports and activities amid pandemic

Posted 6/29/21

COVID-19 didn’t keep Powell middle school and high school students from sports and activities during the 2020-21 school year. Park County School District 1 data shows that participation rates …

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Students stayed engaged in sports and activities amid pandemic


COVID-19 didn’t keep Powell middle school and high school students from sports and activities during the 2020-21 school year. Park County School District 1 data shows that participation rates held steady at PHS while rising significantly at the middle school.

“Athletics was one thing that was somewhat normal still, and really an incentive for kids to get back into the building there in August,” Powell Middle School Activities Director Chanler Buck told the school board at its June 8 meeting.

Fewer kids went out for sports in the fall, but eight or nine weeks into the school year, “when students felt comfortable, families felt comfortable, they realized that Park 1 could pull this off and we were on a pretty good track, winter sports blew up,” Buck said. That momentum continued into spring.

For instance, more than 100 kids again went out for the Cubs’ track teams — despite a new soccer club drawing 43 other student-athletes. Meanwhile, the robotics team tripled in size, Buck said, with around 50 participants. Overall, nearly 69% of sixth, seventh and eighth graders participated in a school activity — up from 54.6% the year before. And that was despite scrapping a couple activities.

“Particularly this year, student involvement beyond the classroom may have been more valuable than ever,” Buck wrote to the board. “Clubs and athletics provided students and their families a sense of belonging and normalcy.”

Over at Powell High School, 419 of the 578 students (72%) participated in at least one activity in 2020-21. That was roughly on par from the prior year.

“Despite a worldwide pandemic, we really didn’t miss a beat and had another year of solid participation and great experiences for our students,” PHS Activities Director Scott McKenzie wrote in a report.

Ninth graders were the most likely to get involved, with 130 of the 160 students in the class (81.3%) doing at least one sport or activity.

Among all high schoolers, girls were a bit more likely to participate, with 75.7% of PHS girls involved versus 69.5% of the boys. There was a clear gender split among the activities, with girls outnumbering boys 2:1 across choir, FFA, journalism, speech, cheerleading and others. Boys, meanwhile, outnumbered girls in sports, with roughly 56.4% of the athletes being male.

The most popular activity among Panther girls was choir (with 56 vocalists), followed by track and field (51 athletes). Among the boys, the most popular activity was football (53 players), again followed by track (52). 

PHS saw roughly even participation among boys and girls in track, tennis, basketball, soccer and band.

Holding seasons and competitions among the COVID-19 pandemic threw many challenges in the way of Powell school leaders, requiring regular coordination with the Wyoming High School Activities Association and other coaches.

“It was almost a daily occurrence where they were making changes on the fly and coming up with new ways of allowing kids to participate,” said PHS Principal Tim Wormald. “And I know the same thing was happening at the middle school — lots and lots of changes.”

“Just so many things had to come together and turn out just right,” Wormald added. 

He recalled a moment in September, when, not long before the volleyball team was set to travel to Kemmerer and Pinedale, PHS officials learned that a member of the Panther squad had tested positive for COVID-19.

Wormald, McKenzie and Assistant Principal Steve Lensegrav met at Panther Stadium and discussed, “‘Oh crap, what does this mean? Are we going to send our volleyball team?’ And that sort of thing,” Wormald said. “And there were many moments like that … Just none of us had ever gone down that path before — and we were having to make some pretty significant decisions.”

In that case, the PHS volleyball team had to stay home, but the Panthers were able to return to action the following week.

“Eventually we got pretty good at them, I think,” Wormald said of the COVID-related calls, “but early on there, there was just a lot of unknown and a lot of things to be figured out.”

Amid the pandemic, “it was a little bit more on everybody’s shoulders, even after the bell rang,” Buck said, but the middle school successfully completed its 2020-21 campaigns.

“I think maybe that’s the ultimate celebration,” he said, “is that not only were we given the opportunity to get kids involved, but we didn’t miss a season all year.”

While participation in school events surged, a survey found that about 20% fewer middle schoolers participated in community activities — a category that includes church groups, the Boy Scouts, Powell Recreation District programs and others. That caused PMS’s overall activity participation rate to fall from 95.6% in 2019-20 to 87.6% last year

Superintendent Jay Curtis suggested that part of the decline might have been due to the school district, which generally closed its facilities to the public until about February, due to COVID-related precautions.

“This is an unintended consequence of that, is a few kids maybe didn’t participate that would have,” Curtis said, “but I think it really goes to show how important schools are as a hub for the community.”

Buck said he hopes to again have more than 95% of Powell Middle School students participating in 2021-22, calling it “very probable” that the goal is hit next year.

“The future looks bright,” he said.

In his submission to the board, McKenzie called involvement in activities a “key piece” to students’ social development and academic achievement. Figures he presented to the board indicated that PHS students who participated in activities had fewer failing grades. For instance, in the fourth week of school, there were 19 students in a sport or activity with a failing grade, compared to 111 non-participants with one or more Fs.

“Over and over,” McKenzie said, “we see evidence that students involved in co- and extracurricular activities outperform their peers who are not involved.”

At the June 8 meeting, Park County School District 1 Board Chair Trace Paul welcomed the figures presented by the middle and high school leaders.

“It just shows that kids, they want to be involved, and beyond that, the staff being dedicated to making sure they’re involved,” Paul said. “So that’s wonderful.”