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New Hampshire track coach fired after penning anti-mask letter

High school coach Brad Keyes was fired after he refused to tell his athletes to wear masks during races

Brad Keyes, a high school track and field coach in New Hampshire, has been fired after refusing to tell his athletes to wear a mask for outdoor races. The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA) recently released its guidelines for the spring track and field season, and officials recommended that all student-athletes wear masks during competition. Keyes, who was the head coach at Pembroke Academy for three years, sent an email to the school athletic director explaining that he disagreed with the NHIAA’s recommendation, adding that he would not enforce it. He received notice of his termination just a few days later. 

In the subject line of his email, Keyes reportedly wrote “Fire me if you must,” before going into his reasons for refusing to support mask-wearing during races. While the NHIAA recommended this for its athletes, it was not mandatory, and officials left it up to individual school boards and athletic directors. To the chagrin of Keyes, Pembroke Academy athletic director Fred Vezina opted to take the NHIAA’s advice. 

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“I’ll come straight to the point,” Keyes wrote in his letter to Vezina. “I will not put kids on the track and tell them to run any races while wearing masks.” He continued, writing that he thought the decisions made by the NHIAA, Vezina and other boards that followed this recommendation were not backed up by science. 

“This is not about protecting the athletes, or even their families, it’s all about covering bureaucratic asses,” he 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 told the Concord Monitor, a local paper in New Hampshire, that he believes masks are necessary and that the pandemic is serious, but he added that he thinks forcing student-athletes to race in masks is “poorly thought out.” 

The Concord spoke with Stan Lyford, another local track coach, who said he stands by Keyes in this matter. “Brad Keyes is not alone on the mask issue,” Lyford said. “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.” Despite disagreeing with the NHIAA, however, Lyford noted that he “will go along unhappily with the state’s rules.” 

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Since his termination, Keyes has made several appearances on various podcasts and TV shows to discuss the issue of wearing masks while racing.