NCHSAA commissioner: 'Give us a chance' to hold a safe regular 2020-21 sports season

Que Tucker met with media Monday ahead of volleyball and cross country competitions resuming across the state.

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 11/16/20

As prep volleyball and cross country competitions resumed across the state, NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker held a news conference Monday to deliver a final rallying cry to everyone …

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NCHSAA commissioner: 'Give us a chance' to hold a safe regular 2020-21 sports season

Que Tucker met with media Monday ahead of volleyball and cross country competitions resuming across the state.

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As prep volleyball and cross country competitions resumed across the state, NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker held a news conference Monday to deliver a final rallying cry to everyone involved.

“High school sports is what we’re trying to do right now,” she said. “Give us a chance.”

After eight long months, the association’s 400-plus member schools — including five high schools in Chatham County — are starting back up with matches and meets.

And, as Tucker and NCHSAA leadership braced for, the restart comes during another concerning coronavirus spike. State health officials have reported record highs in positive COVID-19 cases in recent days, and North Carolina’s positive test rate sat at 7.9% last Friday (well above the state’s 5% target).

So, during a 45-minute Zoom conversation with statewide media, Tucker once again appealed directly to coaches, student-athletes, parents and administrators. Here are some main takeaways from the call:

Mask mandate a ‘necessary’ step

Last week, the NCHSAA made news when it announced a mask mandate for indoor events.

Under that rule, anyone participating in a regular-season volleyball practice or match — including coaches, spectators and student-athletes, even those who are actively playing — must wear a cloth face covering. The mandate also holds for all indoor skill sessions for out-of-season sports. (Cross country, an outdoor sport, isn’t affected, but host schools can require visiting schools to wear masks during meets.)

Tucker said Monday the mandate was developed with input from the state Department of Health and Human Services, the NCHSAA’s sports medicine advisory committee and its board of directors.

“We believe this is a necessary and safe step to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Tucker said, adding that student-athletes can receive medical exemptions from wearing a mask with proper documentation. “We have several (volleyball) teams who’ve reported they’re in quarantine.”

She continued: “Would this have happened with a mask mandate? We’re not sure, but it’s my personal belief that if we hadn’t taken the step of doing something, completing a volleyball season may not have been possible” given current coronavirus metrics in the state.

Basketball and masks

After the NCHSAA announced its mask mandate, much of the ensuing social media conversation focused on if and how it would apply to men’s and women’s basketball. There was plenty of disinformation, too.

Tucker made sure to correct that Monday. For one, NCHSAA men’s and women’s basketball do not start their season until Dec. 7, the first day they can hold official practices/tryouts. As of now, those two sports remain out of season and can only hold preseason skill sessions, which have more restrictions.

“So, no scrimmaging, two-on-two or three-on-three,” Tucker said. “Those should not be occurring.”

It’ll be a few weeks before the NCHSAA takes any further action on basketball, which the state DHHS classifies as a high-risk sport. Tucker said she’s “keenly aware” that mask-wearing is an issue for basketball and acknowledged a schedule adjustment for the sport isn’t out of the question later on.

But for now, she said the NCHSAA is simply asking basketball athletes to wear masks for skill session drills, which per NCHSAA rules must be done individually or in small groups without any contact.

Dialing back club sports

Tucker understands she has zero enforcement power outside of the NCHSAA. But if she had a magic wand, she said, she would use it to have club sport organizations “dial it back for a bit.”

Club sports, such as volleyball and AAU basketball tournaments, have been going on all summer in and out of the state, and plenty of NCHSAA student-athletes have participated. But as the regular season begins, Tucker said experts have emphasized to her club sports are increasingly “concerning.”

“Say I’m a club volleyball player,” Tucker said, “and we’re traveling out of state. Where did I sit? Where did I eat? What doorknob did I touch? What did I do that perhaps put me at greater risk?”

Tucker said if she was coaching in 2020, she’d ask her players to commit exclusively to their high school regular season. She acknowledged that was an unpopular view, and that she’ll likely take heat for her overall critique. But she remained steadfast in her message to independent/club sport organizations.

“Dial it back,” she said, “because we’re trying to play at the high school level.”

Tucker’s office also received a video of a basketball team violating skill session protocol, so she emphasized the same message for out-of-season NCHSAA teams: slow it down, and if you’re going to hold an indoor skill session, make sure to follow guidelines and have everyone wear a mask.

“As a former high school coach, I can think of plenty of other (appropriate) drills to get students ready for Dec. 7 practices,” she said, referring to the video that showed a basketball team scrimmaging.

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

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