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13 vernon copyWhile many high school coaches and athletes in North Carolina deal with the frustrating routine of not being able to play their chosen sports during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vernon Aldridge and other athletic leaders around the state are holding conversations and looking ahead to the time when everyone will be able to return to the fields and courts to resume competition.

Aldridge is the Student Activities Director for the Cumberland County Schools, but he also wears important hats at the state level.

He is one of the leaders of the North Carolina Athletic Directors Association, a role that also landed him a spot on the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Board of Directors.

In recent days, Aldridge has been involved in video conferences with other athletic directors and also with high school principals, partly as a wellness check, but also to see how everyone is dealing with the current situation and looking ahead to a time when play will resume.

“The biggest thing with the pandemic is things are fluid,’’ Aldridge said. “Things are changing hour by hour. It’s the hope of everyone that at some point we are able to come back and play in the spring.’’

The NCHSAA has suspended all play and practice for its member schools until May 18. Cumberland County’s school year is currently scheduled to end on May 22 unless county or state officials decide to extend it.

Aldridge said the fate of athletics hinges on whether or not Cumberland County and the rest of the state returns to school first. “It’s going to be hard to justify playing athletics if the kids aren’t in school,’’ he said.

Even if they are, students won’t be thrown onto the athletic field or court immediately when school reopens. They’ll have to be given a few days, maybe more, to practice.
Que Tucker, commissioner of the NCHSAA, has already said the NCHSAA will not extend the spring athletic season into the summer months. If athletics resumes on May 18, Aldridge isn’t sure how much of a spring season Cumberland County could play, especially schools in the nine-team Patriot Athletic Conference.

The dates for state championships in boys golf, track and field, boys tennis and lacrosse will have already passed.

The only championship dates left would be girls’ soccer on May 30 and baseball and softball June 5-6.

“A conference season would be difficult,’’ Aldridge said. “I’d love to see us be able to to play a couple of games so we could have senior nights and acknowledge our seniors the way they should be acknowledged.’’

A growing worry is the pandemic could continue and extend to football season. Football gate receipts pay the way for the total athletic program. Losing all or part of it would be a huge hit to local schools.

Aldridge said when sports do resume, it’s critical that fans support the program. “Come out and support teams, get involved with booster clubs at the schools, get involved with what we are doing,’’ he said.

For now he hopes coaches are checking in on their athletes and offering emotional support.

“The bigger picture is the health and safety of people,’’ he said. “It’s more important than what we’ve got going on on the field.’’

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