The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association fall season is set to begin with tryouts on Wednesday, Aug. 12. The coronavirus pandemic, however, is threatening to derail the high school season three months after the cancellation of the 2020 spring sports season.
Some counties, like Baltimore, Prince George’s and Montgomery, have already decided to postpone or cancel the fall season, though most in the Baltimore area have yet to make any announcements less than three weeks from the planned start date.
During Wednesday night’s press conference, Gov. Larry Hogan said, “County boards of education have always had the independent authority. The state sets some parameters, but people were not wanting us to interfere with those local decisions. … I know sports is something people are frustrated about.”
Here’s what school systems are saying about the coming high school sports season:
Anne Arundel County
Anne Arundel County Public Schools released a statement Friday delaying the start of the fall high school sports season that was set to begin on Aug. 12 in order to allow families and staff time to prepare for virtual learning.
AACPS, which will have four days of virtual learning with a fifth set aside for small groups and one-on-one teaching in a digital format during at least the first half of the academic year, writes in the statement that it is “working on a plan to engage student-athletes at some point during the first semester after school starts on September 8th.”
AACPS spokesperson Bob Mosier wrote in an email Thursday that the county is waiting on further guidance from the MPSSAA.
“We know these programs provide a sense of connection and motivation, including academically, for many of students,” AACPS Coordinator of Athletics Clayton Culp wrote in an email. “As an education-based program, we will do everything we can to reengage with students through extracurriculars as quickly as possible.”
Culp added that the decisions will be made to align with local health guidelines.
Baltimore City will have virtual learning through the first semester but has not detailed a plan yet for the high school fall sports season. Tiffany Byrd, Coordinator of Athletics for Baltimore City Public Schools, has not responded to an email request as of 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
The county Board of Education voted early Tuesday night to delay a return to school buildings until the semester ends Jan. 29 and proposes in its reopening plan the postponing of the athletics season “while instruction is virtual and until it is safe to conduct all the various facets of organized team sports.”
The county is the first among the Baltimore-area public schools to announce a decision regarding the fall sports season.
BCPS Coordinator of Athletics Michael Sye confirmed the decision to postpone the fall season in an email obtained by Baltimore Sun Media to its athletic directors Wednesday.
Coaches may continue to provide virtual conditioning.
“At this time, there has been no decision regarding the remainder of the 2020-21 athletic seasons,” Sye wrote in the email. “We continue to work with system leadership and county health department medical experts to determine the best plan to provide interscholastic athletic opportunities in a manner that places the highest regard on student and staff safety.”
Carroll County is the only local jurisdiction that has yet to announce a plan for instruction during the coming academic year.
Michael Duffy, Carroll County Public Schools’ Supervisor of Athletics, said “once we have that information, we believe we will be in a better position to make recommendations and decisions for the 2020-2021 athletic seasons.”
The next board of education meeting will be July 29, and Duffy said, “we are hopeful to have a clearer picture after they meet.”
Harford County, which will teach its students virtually for the first half of the year, has not released a plan for high school sports.
After Gov. Hogan and Karen Salmon did not release a plan for high school sports during a press conference on Wednesday, Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Sean Bulson said, “a little more guidance on [fall sports] could’ve helped.”
“It’s going to be hard to look at traditional competition, because that doesn’t fit with any of the CDC guidance. We didn’t have a clear statement on that, so that will be left up to districts,” he added. “Quite frankly, I think we’re OK with things being left up to districts, we’ll make those decisions. They aren’t easy decisions.”
HCPS Supervisor of Athletics Deborah Basler said they have a team “investigating any and all possibilities to provide athletic activities that allow us to abide by state and local health guidelines with fidelity,” and that any activities must be in compliance with public health guidance that includes the use of masks, hand hygiene and social distancing.
The county allows the opportunity for face-to-face conditioning on a voluntary basis.
She added that “all leadership levels understand the urgency of a decision regarding athletics and a final decision about fall sports and team activities will be made a later date.”
Howard County, which will have a virtual-only learning model through at least January, has not yet announced a plan for sports but hopes to by the end of this week.
HCPSS spokesperson Brian Bassett said the school system has been in close collaboration with the MPSSAA to help guide its decision on whether athletics can resume safely this fall.
“Additionally, we are monitoring the status of other districts to evaluate whether there would be any competition beyond in-county opponents,” he wrote in an email. “We hope to have a decision finalized and communicated to our student-athletes and families by the end of this week.”
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The Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, two bodies that govern private school sports throughout the area, made the decision July 17 to postpone fall practices to a start date of Sept. 1 or later.
“At this time, we anticipate that league play will commence on or after Sept. 21, 2020. Revised schedules will be issued to keep within the projected timeline for fall athletics,” the leagues wrote in a joint press release. “The IAAM and MIAA will continue to reevaluate the viability of interscholastic competition for the fall season.”
Montgomery County decided on Tuesday to remain in a virtual-only instruction model through at least Jan. 29. In doing so, they went a step further, as Superintendent Jack R. Smith wrote in the release, “this decision includes the cancellation of all fall and winter sports.”
The county is the first in the state to officially cancel the fall and winter sports seasons. The winter season traditionally begins in mid-November.
Prince George’s County
There will be no fall sports in Prince George’s County. The county announced last week that it will continue distance learning Aug. 31 until Jan. 29, and Prince George’s County Public Schools spokesperson Gabrielle Brown said that during Chief Executive Officer Dr. Monica Goldson’s announcement “she noted that all fall sports are canceled.”
Brown said the decision was a direct result of the county’s current COVID-19 numbers, and though they are on a downward trend they still remain in the epicenter. She added, “we plan to release a document outlining this and other items later this week or early next week.”
This article has been updated. Baltimore Sun Media reporters Brent Kennedy and Katherine Fominykh contributed to this article.