NEW ORLEANS — As a coach in a sport where social distancing is impossible, Andrew Nicola said he did all he could to keep the students on his wrestling team safe during the pandemic — following rules on restricting spectators, disinfecting mats between rounds and requiring wrestlers to change into clean singlets between every match.
So he was alarmed in January when his team from Brother Martin High School in New Orleans arrived at the Louisiana Classic wrestling tournament to find crowds of spectators clustered tightly together, with many not wearing masks.
Mr. Nicola angrily demanded that tournament organizers kick out the people who were not following the rules. “I went up to them personally and said, ‘You need to fix this, and it was not fixed,’” he recalled. “I was very upset because I knew this one was going to cost us.”
Less than a week later, more than 20 students, staff members and spectators who attended the tournament had tested positive for the coronavirus, an outbreak that prompted Louisiana sports officials to suspend the rest of the wrestling regular season.
navigate the challenges of youth sports, weighing concerns about transmitting the virus against the social, emotional and sometimes financial benefits of competition.
For months, a tangle of rules and restrictions that vary by state and sport has forced players and coaches to adapt. Vaccine rollouts and warmer spring temperatures have prompted some states to lift mask mandates and loosen guidelines, but health experts continue to urge caution for young athletes amid the spread of possibly more contagious variants of the virus.
a January report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that two high school wrestling tournaments in Florida led to nearly 80 people becoming infected with the virus, including one adult who died. In Minnesota, at least 68 cases since late January have been linked to participants in school-sponsored and club athletics, including hockey, wrestling and basketball, according to the state health department.
In at least some cases, the spread did not occur during competition, but at team-related gatherings. Recent data from the N.F.L. and the C.D.C. found that shared transportation and meals were the most common causes of the virus spreading among sports teams.