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State athletic associations should cancel spring sports now due to coronavirus | COMMENTARY

Sports editor Tim Schwartz says the state's athletic associations should cancel the spring sports season now due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sports editor Tim Schwartz says the state's athletic associations should cancel the spring sports season now due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Staff photo by Tim Schwartz)

The sports world collapsed in a matter of 48 hours nearly a month ago when the coronavirus pandemic came to Maryland hard and fast.

In its trail was left an incomplete basketball season and a spring sports season that was merely eight days from kickoff put on hold.

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The state is reeling. The number of coronavirus cases spiked by 1,158 on Wednesday, and Thursday’s number of new cases pushed the state’s total confirmed cases past 6,000. It’s not going away anytime soon. Social distancing will continue through this month at least but most likely far beyond that.

That’s why the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland need to rip off the band-aid and cancel the spring season. The remainder of the MPSSAA state basketball tournament, which had reached the semifinal stage, should be canceled as well.

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No doubt it will leave a scar — one that will take months to heal — and it won’t be a popular decision, but it’s the only decision left to make. The seniors who will never get a chance to suit up in their high school uniform again will understand — if not now, then in hindsight — because this pandemic is bigger than sports.

Perhaps the MPSSAA and other organizations haven’t already made the difficult call because they don’t want to be the bad guys or be thought of as jumping the gun. My only guess is they hope the Maryland State Department of Education takes the fall when it inevitably extends online learning through the remainder of the school year and there is no decision left to make.

Simply looking at the logistics of the timeline, the best-case scenario is for schools to reopen April 27. The MPSSAA requires 20 days from the first practice until competition can begin. Does that clock restart, or do officials say the 12 or so days of practice teams in early March count toward that? Can practices with more than 10 players even take place with the social distancing mandate? I would guess not.

Choosing the first option — restarting the clock — puts the start of the season around May 18. Pre-pandemic, that week before Memorial Day marked the final week of the spring season with state lacrosse state finals game beginning the 19th and baseball, softball, track and tennis championships taking place the 21st through the 23rd. Extending the season into June opens another can of worms, like interfering with club sports and scheduled family vacations.

Say the powers that be choose to have one week of practice — five days, Monday through Friday — before starting games on May 2. That was originally scheduled to be the final day of the regular season.

The leagues need to consider the health of their athletes, and I don’t mean COVID-19. Going from spending six-plus weeks on the couch to a competitive environment is an injury waiting to happen. A shortened season where every game matters? That would exacerbate the problem.

The basketball tournament? Even a player as talented as Northeast’s Jaylin Albury and a coach as good as Roger O’Dea can’t be expected to jump right in and compete in an environment as hectic and competitive as the state semifinals.

There is no scenario conceivable to me in which a season can take place. Before you call me a pessimist, realize my world basically revolves around three things: my family, my friends and sports.

My life — personally and professionally — has been turned upside by the coronavirus. I so badly want to see sports happen again at any level. What I wouldn’t have done to see Broadneck boys lacrosse take on Glenelg on Tuesday afternoon. I bet that would’ve been a good one.

It’s wrong to keep the spring sports athletes, especially the seniors, clinging onto a false hope. Scrolling through my Twitter timeline or Facebook page, every so often I’ll see a local lacrosse player in full gear, playing wall-ball or doing drills at home in an attempt to stay fresh and in shape. Or a baseball player lucky enough to have a net to take some swings into.

It’s the majority of them that I haven’t seen. They’re likely doing the right things: staying at home, social distancing and waiting out this pandemic.

Nobody feels worse for them than I do, having chronicled their sports achievements year after year.

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Thankfully, there is some good coming from this new dark reality. In Howard County, the Mount Hebron and Centennial boys lacrosse teams have come together to raise more than $20,000 for the Zaching Against Cancer Foundation with their “Suit Up Against Cancer” challenge that my former colleague Jacob Meyer at the Howard County Times wrote about. If that’s the senior’s last chance to wear their school’s jersey, you’d have a hard time finding a better way to go out.

“This might have a greater impact if we can get this thing to go viral than anything they could’ve done on the field,” said Mount Hebron lacrosse coach Mike McCarthy, who I am proud to call a friend.

I, like so many sports reporters across the country, will continue to write about our local sports teams and athletes. My colleagues — the legendary Bill Wagner and the tireless Katherine Fominykh — are anxious to share your stories, detail your accomplishments and highlight the good deeds many of you are doing during this pandemic.

But it shouldn’t be from a press box at a high school gym or stadium until this pandemic is behind us.

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