Return of fall sports will be determined by Cooper’s Plan B, commissioner says

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 7/15/20

Over the last month, the NCHSAA’s next major decision on when and whether high schools will play sports this fall grew increasingly contingent on Gov. Roy Cooper’s upcoming school reopening plan, …

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Return of fall sports will be determined by Cooper’s Plan B, commissioner says

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Update: the NCHSAA announced Wednesday afternoon it will delay the resumption of fall sports until at least Septemeber 1, while keeping Phase 1 workouts going "until further notice." Read coverage here.

Over the last month, the NCHSAA’s next major decision on when and whether high schools will play sports this fall grew increasingly contingent on Gov. Roy Cooper’s upcoming school reopening plan, commissioner Que Tucker said in a news conference last Wednesday.

Now, with Cooper’s announcement Tuesday that schools may resume under Plan B, a mix of in-person and virtual learning, the NCHSAA has that framework to work under in future weeks as it determines the best path forward.

In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Cooper said individual school districts may opt for remote learning, or Plan C, if they choose. Face masks, he said, will also be required for all students, staff and teachers.

“This decision on the starting of school for the 2020-21 school year now puts us in a better position to make informed decisions concerning if, when, and how to resume athletic competition at NCHSAA member schools” Tucker said in a release after Cooper’s announcement.

Tucker said last week the NCHSAA was hopeful it could design a safe plan for sports returning under Cooper’s Plan A or B. If Cooper had opted for a purely online learning option, Plan C, Tucker said it would have been “difficult to imagine” sports returning in the fall.

The NCHSAA hasn’t made any major announcements on the resumption of sports since early June, when it allowed individual districts to resume modified summer workouts on June 15 or later. The current start date for fall sport tryouts and practices is August 1, and the current start date for public schools is August 17.

“We will continue discussing the numerous options and scenarios that have been developed and recommended, identifying the most appropriate scenarios,” Tucker said in the release. “The NCHSAA staff will work with the Board of Directors, Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and other stakeholder groups to solidify the details of the best plan for the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and the communities the Association represents.”

“We know everyone is interested in start dates and protocols,” she added. “The NCHSAA will provide further updates when they become available after Board discussion and action.”

Here are a few more takeaways from Tucker’s news conference last week:

Participation varies

Attempting to gauge how many of its schools have resumed workouts, the NCHSAA sent a survey last week to school district athletic directors and the principals of the association’s charter/parochial schools.

Nick Stevens of HighSchoolOT provided an in-depth follow-up to those numbers over the next week. As of June 9, HSOT reported that 83 local education agencies (50.9%) had resumed workouts, and 71 (43.5%) had not; nine LEAs provided no update. Under the NCHSAA’s definition, public school districts, which encompass multiple schools, and individual charter/parochial schools are deemed LEAs. (Independent schools in the state have a different governing body.)

In terms of total schools, though, more are holding off (224) than working out (182). That’s a result of smaller, more rural districts OK’ing workouts while larger, more metro districts stand back. Nine of the state’s 10 largest districts — including Charlotte-Mecklenburg and nearby Wake County Schools, which together serve 22% of the NCHSAA’s total athletes — remain on hold.

In Chatham County, the three schools within the district (Northwood, Jordan-Matthews and Chatham Central), along with Woods Charter, resumed workouts July 6. Chatham Charter started workouts June 15.

Four COVID-19 cases

At the time of her news conference, Tucker said the NCHSAA was aware of four positive COVID-19 cases among schools that have resumed. But the infections, she said, happened outside of a team setting.

“We know that one person was in Myrtle Beach the week prior to beginning workouts,” she said. “Someone else had been in Myrtle Beach. So what we’re finding is right now is that, yes, there have been a few, but they were not spread by virtue of being in the workout session. So that’s a good thing.”

No hard cut-off dates

Tucker said the NCHSAA will remain open to starting fall sports at a later date, even if that’s deep into the fall and far past the Aug. 1 and Aug. 17 dates that have been floated.

She painted a hypothetical scenario where, after a delay, the NCHSAA got the go-ahead to start competitions on Oct. 1. If that were the case, Tucker said “it would be incumbent upon us as a staff to put together something for our schools that those fall sport teams could play.”

“Even if it’s for a month, a month and a half, and there are no playoffs and they end in a conference championship,” she said. “So we’ve got everything on the table. No lines really drawn in the sand right now, except that we know that Aug. 1 is approaching quickly.”

Outside factors

Tucker said she has always been a bit worried about athletes participating in outside events, such as showcase events and club sports.

Her usual fears are that coaches may not be certified or teaching the same sportsmanship values the NCHSAA values. She admitted this year, her fears are “probably exacerbated because of COVID-19.”

“Yes, it’s concerning,” Tucker said, adding she wasn’t lumping all outside events into one category. “Especially if they’re not wearing masks, they’re not social distancing and there is no apparent effort to wash hands or have sanitizer provided.”

Her mindset there: “Control what I can control.” That also applies, she said, to another problem the NCHSAA may encounter: coaches recruiting athletes to other states (or schools within North Carolina) with looser guidelines and/or promises to play football in the fall.

“We’ve talked about it,” she said. “We will continue to address it and discuss it to try to see how we can mitigate against that.”

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

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