Arlington County softball dad takes on schools system over sport mask mandates

An Arlington County softball dad created a petition to take on the county’s school system on sports and mask mandates. The school system’s spokesperson sent FOX 5 an emailed response on Tuesday, affirming student athletes will be required to wear masks during competition until the end of the school year. 

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"I just can’t … ugh," said Joey Potts, the Arlington softball dad and coach, "I’m just so frustrated, I can barely talk. There’s no logic behind it. It’s mask theatre. It needs to stop. Our kids deserve better."

Nearly 300 people have signed the petition made for 500 signatures, calling for the Arlington County Public School’s Superintendent to drop the youth sport mask mandate for baseball and softball, especially. 

Potts’ daughter is a senior high school and travel softball player, who Potts says, is required to wear a mask during competition when playing for the high school, no matter the condition and no matter the location. 

READ MORE: Will wearing masks outside soon be a thing of the past?

Potts argues in the petition that several recognized organizations, including Northern Virginia Baseball League, national Little League, and the Virginia High School League, do not require masks while actively engaged in game play. The Virginia father says they require masks with spectators, while teams are switching sides or in places like dugouts. The Arlington father also told FOX 5 he is not against individual families and players choosing to wear a mask while on the field. He claims Arlington Public Schools is the only school systems with this requirement. 

FOX 5 has heard this youth sports mask argument before over at Montgomery County’s SoccerPlex complex. It’s a hot button topic that’s being raised more and more, as more localities resume certain sport activities. 

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SoccerPlex’s Executive Director has been petitioning Montgomery County leaders to drop the soccer play mask mandate, which he says has forced teams to book practices and games elsewhere in Maryland and in Northern Virginia instead – never actually stopping county residents from playing without a mask. 
SoccerPlex did get a small win on Tuesday. The County Council, acting as the Board of Health, changed sport mask wearing guidance when it unanimously passed a 5th Board of Health Regulation to loosen some retail and capacity COVID-19 restrictions (the county council is now moving to a phased reopening based on the percentage of the county is vaccinated).

Interestingly, Montgomery County’s leaders previously used American Academy of Pediatrics guidance to argue why certain athletes still had to wear masks during competition and practice. Now, county language in a board of health regulation draft, noted how the AAP does allow "for the removal of face coverings during vigorous outdoor exercise in high heat and high humidity conditions." 

An amendment was approved to change language so that the mask change would apply to both adults and children. However SoccerPlex Executive Director Matt Libber says the county’s leaders failed to clearly identify what it actually considers to be "high heat" so that metric can be applied and enforced evenly, across the board. 

"They basically said you [all] decide what to do now and you deal with the consequences ‘cause we’re going to get people on both sides of this that say, ‘You’re too lenient, you should still be wearing masks,’ and other people, ‘Hey it was too hot 10 degrees ago. We shouldn’t be wearing masks.’ And now it’s on us," said Libber. 

In Tuesday’s county Board of Health Meeting, Montgomery County Chief Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles noted how last week, they expressed concern about a hockey tournament COVID-19 outbreak that involved around 35 confirmed cases, according to a county Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson. Gayles said that, fortunately, they have not seen a large number of outbreaks since, referencing youth sports. He also attributed this to a difference of having more vaccines available to the public to get teachers, staff and non-students alike, vaccinated.

Libber is still also calling on the county to allow athletes from outside of the DMV to be allowed to play in Montgomery County. County leaders noted that would come in Phase 2 of their new phased reopening plan. 

In Arlington County, Potts says he is not really an activist but does plan to petition more forcefully if the county’s public school system does not update mask guidance. 

"To me, wearing a mass on a softball field is the same as wearing a motorcycle helmet in bed. It’s a proper protective measure in certain situation but it’s absolutely useless and at best, mild annoyance in that particular context," said Potts.