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Talent Middle School football players test positive for COVID-19, season paused

Three Talent Middle School athletes tested positive for COVID-19 last weekend, halting the middle school football season and forcing approximately 103 students into quarantine.

Team practice was held outside Sept. 9 and 10 before the three athletes tested positive Saturday. That led Phoenix-Talent School District officials to conduct contact tracing over 48 hours. Talent Middle School families were notified Monday of what had happened.

On Wednesday, when the district notified news outlets of the positive case, the middle school’s nurse said that over 100 students had been quarantined, but cautioned the number could go down if students show proof of vaccination or that they had COVID-19 in the past 90 days.

Phoenix-Talent School District Superintendent Brent Barry said that protocols his district is following is the best way to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“We know that this is super tough on students, family, staff and not something that we want to do, but it’s something that’s necessary,” Barry said.

No staff tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, 27 students — four of them on the team — were not quarantined because they were fully vaccinated or had tested positive within 90 days.

Barry would not comment on the current condition of the three athletes who tested positive but noted, “This is pretty serious” and “we’ll continue to follow up with our students and families.”

“We knew this was a possibility. We know the delta variant is extremely contagious; more contagious than what we dealt with last year,” the superintendent said. “We just want to continue to remind students, family and staff to really check in with their own health screening before they come to school and monitor their symptoms. That’s one of the first and foremost things that we can ask. If there are symptoms, just stay home.”

According to the Talent Middle School football schedule, the next games for seventh- and eighth-graders were Sept. 21 and 22, respectively. But those games would not happen according to the 14- or 10-day quarantine option the district says parents can choose from.

“We have to put a pause on that for now, which is unfortunate because we’ve really been without middle school athletics and activities for a full year,” Barry said. “We know that’s important — extracurricular activities are a connection to school for a lot of kids.”

Dave Johnson, Talent Middle School head football coach and athletics director, said it’s unfortunate that his team won’t get to play for now, but the situation of illness and quarantine present no other way forward.

“We just have to go with it,” he said. “We’re not the first team to have this happen and we won’t be the last.”

Johnson said his team follows all COVID-19 safety protocols, noting that although players don’t wear masks while engaged in football, they have when working out at the gym. If a player doesn’t have a mask on them, the school makes sure to provide one.

He cautioned against jumping to conclusions about how the players became infected.

“They could have picked it up anywhere,” Johnson said.

He noted his players were excited to play football after not having done so in over a year. But with positive COVID-19 cases, the plan is to just wait it out, Johnson said.

Contact Mail Tribune education reporter Kevin Opsahl at kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com