The track and field coach at Pembroke (N.H.) Academy was fired Monday after forcefully refusing to enforce mask-wearing mandates placed on his athletes.
As reported by the Concord Monitor, third-year coach Brad Keyes stated in an email to athletic director Fred Vezina last week, “I’ll come straight to the point. I will not put kids on the track and tell them to run any races while wearing masks.”
Keyes said the athletic directors and school boards that followed New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association recommendations and agreed to outdoor mask-wearing were being dishonest to the athletes by making decisions without wisdom or science, the Monitor reported.
“No, the real reason I won’t do it is because it’s senseless, irrational, cowardice b------t and I will not help cover that up,” Keyes wrote. “I will not stand up in front of the kids and lie to them and tell them that these masks are doing anything worthwhile out in an open field with wind blowing and the sun shining.”
Keyes' follow-up message was titled, “Fire me if you must.”
In this fourth athletic season since COVID struck, the NHIAA recommended that athletes wear masks during all spring season running events. Hurdlers and throwers, meanwhile, were given a choice regarding mask-wearing.
Even as the cluster of teams competing with Pembroke agreed at a recent meeting to follow the recommendations, Keyes cited potential breathing problems and a lack of any data that shows COVID poses a danger to young athletes running outside. Other coaches were against the enforcement of mask wearing as well, yet went along.
“Brad Keyes is not alone on the mask issue,” Stan Lyford, who has been a track and cross country coach at Portsmouth High School for 47 years, said in an email, as reported by the Monitor. “Everyone I talk to thinks that wearing masks while running is a bad idea. It is not like soccer or other sports where you run a little and ease off. Track is full speed ahead at all times.
"I personally can't imagine myself running with a mask."
Keyes, 51, acknowledged that the pandemic is deadly and the vulnerable and elderly should be first in line for the vaccine, but maintained the mask policy for teens was implemented only as an insurance policy against liability.
Moreover, he considers it unfair. Keyes said he had heard from other coaches who told him their athletes were instructed, with a wink, not to worry if their mask dropped down a little, into what’s been called a chin diaper, near the start line. To Keyes, that’s encouraging cheating. "I won't be part of that," he said.
Vezina told the Monitor that the school board had expected him to follow the NHIAA’s lead, and that’s what he did. “Inside we wore masks,” Vezina said, “and now back outside we will continue that based on the recommendations we have received.”