After a nearly three-month hiatus, the NCHSAA has a start date for high school sports to resume. But some counties, including those in the Piedmont Triad, may hold off a little longer.
The NCHSAA announced Monday morning its dead period, enacted in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, will be lifted effective June 15, ushering in limited summer workouts — divvied into three reopening phases — before the fall season.
John Sullivan, the athletics director for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, said his county remains in what he described as a “planning process” for a return to high school sports.
While a hard date was set by the association, resumption lies on the discretion of each school district across North Carolina. Guilford County Schools is in the reviewing process and has yet to identify a start date, county athletics director Leigh Hebbard said.
That falls in line with school districts in Davie County and Surry County as well. Joe Bullis, the interim athletics director for Wilkes County Schools, noted July 1 was determined as its return for sports roughly three weeks ago but will re-examine that date this week.
Sullivan said July 6 appears to be a “more feasible” time for Forsyth County to resume. Davidson County Schools will start July 6 as well.
“We’re still trying to find thermometers,” Sullivan said of what the NCHSAA’s safety guidelines require. “We don’t have the necessary supplies to start on the 15th. So, you know, it’s going to be sometime after that and we have not set a date yet. So we’re still working through all of that.”
The decision from the NCHSAA comes on the heels of a Zoom meeting Friday, in which the association’s board of directors discussed the latest updates from Gov. Roy Cooper and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. That was described in a letter signed by Que Tucker, the NCHSAA’s commissioner, released Monday.
“The health and safety measures outlined in this plan were formed utilizing CDC, DHHS, and NCHSAA information at this time,” Tucker said in the statement. “It is recognized, however, that the information and circumstances concerning COVID-19 remain fluid and variable. Therefore, these guidelines are subject to change in conjunction with new knowledge of COVID-19 or changing social condition.”
All sports can resume workouts on June 15, as the NCHSAA released its Phase One guidelines. The association said information for its other phases will be released “in the coming weeks.”
Phase One guidelines for all sports offered information on facilities, including cleaning schedules and disinfection of hard surfaces like chairs, weight room equipment and bathrooms. Workouts are limited to no more than 90 minutes, and gatherings at outside sites can include up to 25 people — no more than 10 in gymnasiums — and workouts will be conducted in “pods” of the same athletes training together weekly.
According to the guidelines, athletes will be screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms. Plans for entering and exiting facilities to prevent large gatherings are set to be implemented as well. Locker rooms, dugouts, weight rooms and mat rooms will remain closed during Phase One, and spectators aren’t permitted during practices.
Those daily screenings included temperature measurements.
Alexis McCoy, the athletics director at Reagan, said high schools in Forsyth County weren’t prepared for a reopening — particularly because of a lack of infrared thermometers. According to McCoy a school like Reagan, which competes in Class 4-A, likely needs six to 10 thermometers.
McCoy is one of four high school athletics directors — in addition to Carver’s Danny Piggott, North Forsyth’s Sean Vestal and West Forsyth’s Mike Pennington — on a roughly 20-member athletics reopening committee in Forsyth County. She said the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the area was also a concern.
Forsyth County has recorded 1,808 coronavirus cases, according to numbers released Monday. The county had day-to-day increases exceed more than 50 cases at least 11 times in May.
“I mean, Winston-Salem is considered a hot spot right now,” McCoy said. “And so, you don’t want to contribute to that hot spot. You know, we just want to make sure we have everything — and everyone has time to prepare for it.”
McCoy referenced the Alabama football program, as the NCAA allowed athletes to return to universities last week. At least five players are reported to have tested positive for COVID-19 and were asymptomatic.
“You read those kinds of things and you wonder. You want to do what’s best for the kids,” McCoy added. “Yes, you want to get them back out there. But, you know, you have to look at the big picture.”
Football was outlined as one of seven sports with a higher risk for infection — the others are soccer, cheerleading, lacrosse, basketball, wrestling and volleyball. The NCHSAA deemed cross country, golf, baseball, swimming and diving, softball, tennis and track and field as lower-risk, requiring social distancing of at least six feet while training.
Wearing protective equipment is prohibited for football and lacrosse during Phase One. Players will not participate in drills where a lone football is passed around by teammates, and contact isn’t allowed. The NCHSAA said tackling dummies and sleds must be disinfected after each use as well.
The association said its dead period originally scheduled for June 29 to July 5 will remain in effect. Its dead period running July 20-26 — the week of the N.C. Coaches Associations’ clinic — was eliminated.
Coach Antwon Stevenson of Glenn said football coaches from across the county met Monday at Vintage Sofa Bar in Winston-Salem, and speculation about the start of the season was brought up. Stevenson said he’s unsure what the upcoming season will look like amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
“Of course, as a coach you want to have your kids together. You want to start getting them prepared for the season,” Stevenson said. “But I think our county’s approach is from a well-being standpoint, and I don’t think they have all the answers right now to what’s going on and how to go about it and it still be a safe environment.
“... I commend them for that. And I’ll be the first to say, ‘Hey, I’m ready for our players to be back together and we need to have this time together,’ and all that stuff.”