Brad Keyes said he was fired from his position as Pembroke Academy’s track and field coach Monday after he informed school Athletic Director Fred Vezina that he would not allow any member of his team to compete this spring while wearing a mask.
Keyes said Vezina told him last week that Pembroke Academy would require its athletes to wear masks as a COVID-19 protocol while competing in all running events plus the long jump, triple jump and the high jump.
Keyes wrote a response stating his objections to the decision and posted it on Pembroke Academy’s track and field website: PATrackAndField.com. He also wrote an email to Vezina that made it clear he would not have his athletes compete with masks.
“There’s very little indication that coronavirus spreads outdoors,” Keyes wrote. “There’s no scientific justification for any of these requirements, and I’m not willing to go in front of the kids and basically lie to them and say ‘this is for your protection’ or there’s a reason for it or it makes any sense.”
Keyes, who competed in the decathlon in high school and at Penn State, was entering his fourth season as Pembroke Academy’s track and field coach.
“There are kids who have asthma who run,” he wrote in his email. “You throw a mask on them it makes it worse. It’s not unusual for a kid to throw up afterward or even occasionally pass out after running a 400 (meter run) or 800. Throw a mask on someone going full out … it’s not good.
“I could come up with other examples where this could potentially be dangerous, but I don’t think that’s the fundamental problem. I think the fundamental problem with it is that these rules and regulations are being put in place to cover (rear ends), basically.”
Vezina sent the following email response when he was contacted Monday after Keyes’ firing:
“Thank you for your email. I will not be commenting on this personnel decision. Have a good day.”
In most cases, each school district has made decisions regarding COVID-19 protocols for high school sports during the 2020-21 school year.
The NHIAA, the governing body for high school sports in New Hampshire, also offers COVID-19 protocol recommendations on its web site. In guidelines, under the heading of “Rules Considerations, NHIAA Outdoor Track Committee and NHIAA Sports Medicine Committee, Adopted for the 2020-21 season,” the league offers guidelines from the National Federal of State High School Associations for state associations to consider, including:
“It is recommended that athletes wear a face covering during competition in all events. Due to safety concerns for potential injury, athletes may remove their face covering while actively competing in the events of javelin, discus, shotput, hurdles or pole vault immediately prior to competing. Immediately upon conclusion of actively competing, it is recommended that athlete puts their face covering back on.”
The NHIAA also stipulates that “pending NHIAA Council approval the 2021 NHIAA Track and Field Championship will require face coverings for all participants.”
According to Keyes, track and field athletes will not be required to wear masks while competing in the shot put, discus, javelin, pole vault or hurdles this spring for “safety” reasons. He said NHIAA cross-country runners were not required to wear masks during the fall season.
Keyes said he does not regret taking a stand on the issue, but does regret that he will not be there for the Pembroke Academy track and field athletes this season.
“I could not stand up in front of the kids and tell them that (wearing masks while competing) is good and makes sense, and I certainly couldn’t tell them that they have to wear masks in these races,” he said. “I’ve run all these races. It’s idiotic.”