How Chatham County ADs are tackling the NCHSAA’s new 2020-21 athletics calendar

Posted 8/19/20

After a spring and summer’s worth of coronavirus-induced cancellations and delays, Chatham County’s five high schools got a comprehensive roadmap for fall sports last Wednesday.

That …

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How Chatham County ADs are tackling the NCHSAA’s new 2020-21 athletics calendar

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After a spring and summer’s worth of coronavirus-induced cancellations and delays, Chatham County’s five high schools got a comprehensive roadmap for fall sports last Wednesday.

That afternoon, the NCHSAA announced its much anticipated 2020-21 athletics calendar. No teams will hold official practices until November, football games won’t start until February and all but three sports (cross country, volleyball and swimming and diving) won’t compete until 2021.

It was an understandably dramatic overhaul, one that brought with it plenty of questions and made for an atmosphere of “hesitant excitement,” as Jordan-Matthews’ Josh Harris put it. Still, though, he and the rest of the county’s athletic directors had something definitive. And that was a relief.

“On social media, a lot of people are starting to get really bitter and negative about things,” Northwood co-AD Jason Amy said. “I’m just tickled to death they told us we were even going to do something. It was better than guessing.”

Added Chatham Charter’s Clint Fields: “We’ve gone so long with, ‘There’s something coming, there’s something coming,’ and now we finally have it. We’ve got to roll with it.”

NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said she hopes the schedule, which runs from November to June, is a “one-year blip on our radar.” The changes to football are the most eye-catching — a slew of top in-state recruits have already announced they’ll pass on a spring season and enroll early at their respective colleges — but there are substantive changes to other sports, too.

Men’s soccer, a traditional fall sport, and men’s/women’s lacrosse, traditional spring sports, will all begin games Jan. 25. Outdoor cross country, which usually ends its season in November, will now start meets Nov. 16. Wrestling, a winter sport, will compete from April to June.

“When you have a schedule, you can move forward, make plans,” Woods Charter athletic director Dena Floyd said. “Let’s be positive. People need to realize it’s not going to be like it was last year.”

Tucker, in a news conference last Wednesday, provided more specifics on the calendar, which is still in the works. The NCHSAA hopes to hold playoff competition for all sports, she said, and acknowledges that weather may play a role in traditionally outdoor sports budgeted for the winter — as such, the current limit of two competitions a week is “not set in stone.”

Tucker also confirmed the NCHSAA has no rules preventing athletes from participating in multiple sports, even if those sports’ seasons run simultaneously. Floyd said Woods Charter, a 1A school that relies heavily on multi-sport athletes to field enough players for its varsity rosters, will have to “get creative” there; it’ll also be a point of concern at fellow 1As Chatham Charter and Chatham Central.

Scheduling is also on athletic directors’ minds — usually a year-long process and collaboration between them and their individual coaches, it’s back to Square One in terms of finding opponents.

As HighSchoolOT reported last Friday, the NCHSAA placed a temporary moratorium on official scheduling, but schools can still make plans unofficially. In the Central Tar Heel 1A Conference, home to Chatham Charter, Woods Charter and six other charter schools, that can be tricky.

Since charter schools act as their own local education agency, or LEA, under NCHSAA rules, each may take its own stance on how and when it will return to competition, including in stricter ways.

Amy said the same goes for the Big 8 3A Conference that Northwood competes in. In that conference alone, five systems are represented: Chatham County (Northwood), Orange County (Cedar Ridge, Orange High), Durham County (Northern Durham, Southern Durham), Vance County (Vance County High) and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (Chapel Hill, East Chapel Hill). They, too, may govern their own reopening and athletics.

“I want to personally just see if we can get through cross country and volleyball,” Amy said.

The feasibility of any plan as comprehensive as the NCHSAA’s during the coronavirus pandemic remains a lingering fear. Tucker said last week Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening plan — namely, moving into Phase 3 — will play “a huge role” in the NCHSAA’s target start dates in November.

In Chatham County, all public and charter schools started the 2020-21 academic year with virtual learning Monday. But in terms of athletics, they’ve haven’t been as uniform.

While Chatham Charter and Woods Charter held summer workouts — and are making plans for fall workouts — under NCHSAA guidelines, public schools Northwood, Jordan-Matthews and Chatham Central remain on pause as Chatham County Schools begin the year with nine weeks of remote learning.

“There’s so many different scenarios we can paint,” said Amy, who also teaches physical education at Northwood. “I’m just trying to pull back and focus on starting school.”

“That’s the big thing: there’s probably going to be some hiccups,” Fields of Chatham Charter said. “It’s just being patient and working with your coaches and administration, because this is new to everyone.”

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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