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Thought the world of youth sports was tough before? It’s worse during a pandemic.

(Sorapong Chaipanya/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Youth sports were tough in normal times. Anyone who has been to a kids’ game and witnessed seemingly normal parents suddenly unleash a screech from the depth of Hades at a ref, a coach or their poor kid can attest to that.

Add a pandemic, and youth sports become somehow worse — a steaming pile of health theatrics and mixed messaging, high risk and hypocrisy, slippery morality and sacrifice, resignation and resentment.

So while thousands die, millions fall ill, businesses fold and workplaces and schools crater, plenty of youth sports programs are finding ways to keep their kids in the game.

“There are loopholes,” said a frustrated D.C. soccer dad whose college-prospect son is sitting out his travel team’s risky games to keep his vulnerable family members safe. “And this virus loves loopholes.”

And that’s especially scary because research has already shown that children are the silent spreaders of the novel coronavirus, in some cases carrying a high viral load — at times higher than adults in hospital intensive care units — while appearing asymptomatic, according to the Journal of Pediatrics.

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Most school soccer teams canceled their seasons, but in some communities, travel teams are hopscotching to counties and states for games where local coronavirus restrictions aren’t as tight.

While spring tryouts were canceled nearly everywhere, some hard-core baseball families hit the road like an opening act on tour this summer, sweeping through tournaments in states that decided to play ball even though their own home teams took a bye on the season.

“He played about 60 games this summer,” a baseball mom who kept her family’s travel quiet on social media told me.

In some cases, independent leagues have made the smart and community-minded call. The American Youth Football League, which oversees teams across Florida, canceled this year’s season, saying it “unanimously agreed that we could not provide a safe football experience for our children, volunteers and families.”

But Friday night lights are flicked on and football games are in full crunch in spots around the country. Like in Utah, where a team of seventh-graders made last week’s ESPN national sports highlights. Pandemic? What pandemic? We made ESPN!

Recently, my kids had a tentative return to the hockey rink. Now here’s a sport that’s not easy to play under pandemic restrictions, unless you live in Vostok.

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All of the boys’ spring and summer teams, leagues and camps were canceled. Instead, they shot pucks outdoors (and broke lots of windows), ran and lifted weights to try to stay in the game.

It sucked.

“Everyone is in the same boat as you guys,” we kept telling them when they began to worry about how far behind they were falling.

When Virginia and Maryland entered Phase 2 and rinks finally opened with precautions for stick-and-puck sessions, we took them back to the ice a few times.

It felt absurd, seeing this halting army of hockey players ambling about the parking lot in 90-degree heat, all for a little ice time.

The locker rooms were closed to ensure social distancing, so they had to dress outdoors in the parking lot, leave their bags outside, teeter across the asphalt on skates with covers on the blades, and sweat through pads, jerseys and helmets while wearing masks under their visors and cages.

Then, the tough side of youth sports showed up.

“They just came right in through the side door! With their bags, no masks, right into the locker room,” my son said after his surreal, truncated 50-minute practice, as he watched the elite club players whose parents pay thousands of dollars for membership take over the rink once the Zamboni cleared the general population goons.

Yup, there it is.

So much for community-building and general welfare.

During the summer, I spoke with a sports dad who was furious when his daughter was dropped from the roster of her elite soccer team in Alexandria after deciding not to play so she wouldn’t risk exposing her grandma to the virus.

“We haven’t gone out, we don’t get together with friends, we don’t risk anything,” the dad told me.

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For that family’s coronavirus precautions, it was the right call.

The D.C. soccer dad agreed that games aren’t a safe place.

“We go to the game, the referee isn’t wearing a mask, the coach’s mask is below his nose,” he said.

“How come we can’t send our kids to school but this is okay?” he asked.

It isn’t. It’s another way that we’re growing the divide in our nation — but we’re dressing it up in trophies, jerseys and a pay-to-play esprit de corps that benefits very few.

Twitter: @petulad

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