Activities are an extension of the classroom. Education-based athletics and activities help to create citizens who can handle pressure, work hard, have pride and develop relationships. There are minimal arguments on the value of the extension of the school day and the impact it can have on the student’s life. It all seems so crystal clear, but then you need to figure out transportation.
Season after season, the never-ending decisions of scheduling and transportation continue. There are schedules that need to change due to no bus driver or no bus availability. Before the schedule is solidified, a discussion with the transportation director needs to occur based on having two teams going in two different directions. There is always the possibility there will not be transportation, and the schedule changes.
Just when the activities director has the system down, a pandemic happens. The CDC recommendation for busing was about 50 percent capacity. All of a sudden, a team that was a “one bus” team becomes a “two bus” team. Now, everything is doubled and yet the bus availability is not, nor has the number of available drivers doubled. Activities directors and transportation directors had to think outside the box, or in many cases, outside the bus.
Many districts only had one to two teams traveling on any given day. Many lower levels were played on less busy days. This worked for the most part, but again it depended on the availability of drivers. Solutions began to roll out as districts navigated through the pandemic.
Saturdays have always been an option and for many sports like ice hockey, gymnastics, wrestling and dance, it is the norm. Schools then began using this day to play games as a norm for other sports. Two things, there were not a lot of family plans happening due to the pandemic and there was not a shortage of bus availability. Also, maybe a schedule is planned for predictability, with every other Saturday used. This allows for bus drivers and parents to make other plans on the off weekend.
Parents and Guardians
Driving Some teams realized that sitting on the bus for an extended amount of time would possibly put the entire team in quarantine due to guidelines if someone tested positive for COVID-19. Athletes were requesting permission to ride with their own parents to events. Some districts embraced this, granting permission with the stipulation the athlete only rides with their own parent or guardian. No carpooling was allowed due to liability issues. As a result, a “two-bus” team was back to a “one-bus” team.
Among other things, coaches had to realize that students riding the bus would not be part of the team bonding. Some teams use the bus ride to build relationships within the team. It was an awkward concept to meet your team at the school. Granted, club teams do this all the time, but education-based activities take this to a whole new level and use every moment as an opportunity to build character, even during the bus rides.
Some districts experienced an increase in people willing to be bus drivers, which was somewhat surprising as the pandemic halted many people from venturing out. However, it was a way to watch games in person and be involved with the team. Being a bus driver gives a sense of normalcy in a very chaotic time.
Other districts also experienced older drivers quitting due to the pandemic. The possibilities of finding younger drivers with kids may be a key factor in reeling in more drivers. Enticing others to get a bus license has become a priority, and more so for some districts because of the pandemic.
During the winter season, many states put limitations on the schedules. Instead of playing 26 basketball games, only 18 were permitted in some areas. This also created more time in a season that is usually packed tight. Transportation became more doable because not as many buses were out on any given night and bus drivers were available.
Coaches and activities directors may argue whether game reduction is good or bad. When activities are strapped due to lack of transportation, it becomes an issue. Most would agree the pandemic has created the need for “urgency” and the “best” has been reduced. No doubt, it will return, but embracing the actuality of getting to play, regardless of number of games, may last a while.
The pandemic is still here. Schools are beginning to cautiously see a light to return to “normal,” but safety for student-athletes is still a high priority. As the process of planning for spring and fall continues, much has been learned. The key is to use what we have learned when it comes to transportation.
Remember, it is okay to move the schedule around. Just because it was done that way before the pandemic, it does not mean it needs to continue that way. There is value in moving lower-level games to another day. Also, reducing the number of games does not reduce the value of the sport. It allows for more teaching and reflection through practice.
Continue the search for bus drivers, acknowledging the perk to attend games. Parents driving students to games may continue for a while, which would reduce the need for a bus to a van. Keep looking at all options and understand that each component depends on the other when it comes to activities and transportation.
Transportation is a key component to a school district’s activities. Work each season with the transportation director and remember to be creative. Schedules, bus shortages and lack of bus drivers will not be going away. It is a revolving conversation at the beginning of every season whether there is a pandemic or not. Ideally, something was learned from the pandemic that carries into each season. For all involved, a willingness to be flexible and to think outside the box – or bus – is essential.
Lisa Myran-Schutte, CMAA, is the athletic/activities director at Pine Island (Minnesota) High School after serving in a similar capacity at Houston (Minnesota) High School for several years. She is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.