Tuesday, 09 June 2020
Written by Earl Vaughan Jr.
Barring any last-minute changes caused by the situation with COVID-19, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has set a tentative date of June 15 for hopefully allowing its member schools to resume some kind of workouts in preparation for what it hopes will be a fall sports season.
But the look of those workouts and the look of the fall sports season are pictures that will both be dramatically altered and possibly out of focus based on the various plans that have been put forward for how teams can proceed.
On a video conference call with reporters statewide last month, NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker announced the official extension of the current summer dead period to June 15, hoping that by then, the Phase Two plan of reopening the state of North Carolina would allow enough flexibility for teams to conduct some kind of practices.
“We will be very deliberate in our task, which is one reason we have not rushed,’’ Tucker said.
The main reason for taking it slow, Tucker said, was to carefully develop plans to make workouts safe as possible and allow coaches and athletic directors time to develop their own local plans of how to secure things like hand sanitizer and set up hand-washing stations.
“It will not be possible to prevent every student-athlete from contracting COVID-19,’’ Tucker said. “It’s our goal to do everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our student-athletes, our coaches and the communities represented by our schools.’’
For some sports, like football and wrestling, summer workouts will likely not allow any physical contact, making them more sessions devoted to conditioning than actual practice sessions.
Tucker said the current NCHSAA plan is not to hold any team back from practice once June 15 arrives, but to allow all of them some form of workouts within the guidelines set down by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The National Federation of State High School Associations has also issued a lengthy set of guidelines, but Tucker said the DHHS guidelines would take precedence.
The big question yet to be answered is will there be a fall sports season, especially football, which generates much of the revenue that is the life blood for the entire athletic program at many schools.
The other question yet to be answered is how many fans, if any, would be allowed to attend football games or other sporting events. That is a question Tucker is not ready to answer.
“To not have any fans in the stands would be rough,’’ she said. “We are not at the point yet where we are pulling up the tent on football this fall. We are hopeful we can have some fans.’’
Once the fall arrives, Tucker said the NCHSAA will look at any option possible to putting teams on the field, especially football. That could mean everything from a later than normal start to cutting the season short.
NCHSAA bylaws do not prohibit moving a sport to another season, but Tucker said that’s something that the NCHSAA would prefer not to do. “Moving sports season is a last resort,’’ she said. “It’s too early to talk about that. It’s very clear whatever we do will not be outside the parameters of the guidelines from the governor and DHHS.’’
For the moment, Tucker said the most important thing is that all agencies involved in deciding when and how high school sports will resume be consistent with what is put in place.
“It is important we are all singing from the same song sheet,’’ she said.
Tuesday, 02 June 2020
Written by Earl Vaughan Jr.
This time of year, high school football coaches are usually getting ready for a long summer of conditioning workouts with their teams in preparation for the start of official practice in North Carolina on August 1.
But the COVID-19 pandemic and lingering uncertainty over what kind of, if any, football season we’ll have this fall has the Cumberland County Schools senior high school football coaches taking a far more cautious look at what a return to the sport could mean.
None are more circumspect in their feelings about this fall than veteran Pine Forest coach Bill Sochovka. Like all of his fellow coaches, his main concern is the health and safety of his players and coaches. He’d like to wait and see what goes on in states that are opening up practice faster than North Carolina.
“A later date would give us a better understanding,’’ he said, adding he’d prefer to have preseason practice no earlier than July 1.
“People forget that high school sports, particularly football, is a natural petri dish for germs,’’ Sochovka said. “Anytime a kid gets a sniffle or a stomach bug, you’re going to have six or seven kids on the team wind up getting it.’’
Sochovka said the sport of football is already under the microscope for how it handles injuries because of the recent concern for the treatment of players who suffer concussions. “We’ve got to think about kids and safety first,’’ he said. “We’ve got to be smart about it.’’
Another concern is just what kind of football we’ll be playing when the sport first resumes. Jake Thomas, coach at Cape Fear, noted that the preliminary practice guidelines set down by the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations turn practice into more of a case of strength and conditioning than actual game practice.
“Screening every athlete and coach every time you meet with them seems not financially feasible,’’ Thomas said. “Schools already have limited budgets, and now football games without fans and a band
will financially destroy high school athletics and many schools.’’
Thomas thinks coaches may need to look for pre-determined risk factors like a respiratory condition and possibly not allow at-risk athletes to come out for the team.
“At some point, we have to go back to living life and stop hiding in fear,’’ he said.
Terry Sanford coach Bruce McClelland said his staff has already worked out a rotation of players to limit numbers in the school’s weight room, along with plans to sanitize all areas used by players and team staff.
“There are so many different professional opinions I have listened to — it’s become confusing,’’ he said. “I am honestly hoping we get some good news in the near future from the medical field that will help make this an easier decision.’’
Seventy-First coach Duran McLaurin would love to be practicing, but he’s cognizant of what that could entail. “I’m very concerned with keeping my players safe more than any reward I can think of right now,’’ he said.
Regardless of what happens, the advice given by new E.E. Smith head coach Andy Karcher is likely the wisest. “The biggest takeaway from this is to be patient, keep everything and everyone as clean as possible and don’t take any unnecessary risks,’’ he said.