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Carroll County school board opts to wait another week before voting on high school sports start date

Going into Wednesday night’s meeting, Carroll County Board of Education members thought they had to choose between high school sports starting within the next few weeks or beginning Feb. 1.

After they heard there might be another option, and debated the choices, they decided to push back their decision another week.

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County Supervisor of Athletics Michael Duffy explained that the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association is considering an altered two-semester plan that has wide-ranging state support that, if approved by the Maryland State Department of Education, would allow high school sports to begin in early December.

Learning about that new proposal, which would add a week or two to each of the winter, fall, and spring seasons and somewhat alleviate concerns about the seasons overlapping, changed the discussion and caused Boardmember Marsha Herbert to lament, “It’s not fair," about yet another late change to the game made at the state level.

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Boardmember Ken Kiler made a motion late in the meeting for Carroll County Public Schools to adhere to the MPSSAA’s second-semester plan, whether it starts Dec. 7, as it would under the revised proposal, or whether it starts Feb. 1 as first announced last month. He did not get a second, however, and the motion was not voted upon.

Under the MPSSAA’s current “Roadmap for Return to Interscholastic Athletics and Extracurricular Activities” plan announced Sept. 11, the winter sports season is scheduled to run from Feb. 1 through March 27; the fall season, March 15 through May 8; and the spring season, April 26 through June 19.

The MPSSAA later gave systems the option of starting the fall season on Oct. 7. Garrett, Washington and Allegany counties have chosen the latter; nearly every other system, including neighboring Frederick County, has opted for the later start.

The Carroll County Board of Education, which earlier in the meeting reaffirmed its decision to move forward with a hybrid learning model on Oct. 19 that will give all students the option of returning to school buildings at least two days per week, had decided it did not want to begin sports before students were back and learning in-person. So they spent much of the meeting talking about a possible compromise Nov. 2 start date for fall practice and a Nov. 23 date to begin games.

Duffy noted that “our time is really, really tight” in trying to get something of a fall season together in 2020. Except in golf, games can’t begin until 20 days after practice starts. Duffy told the board that starting the fall season that late might mean as few as three games for some sports and would be affected by the end of Daylight Savings Time on Nov. 1.

Board member Tara Battaglia noted that coaches and players she has heard from aren’t worried about how many games they would play or competing for championships, that they just want to play.

Duffy outlined how the MPSSAA’s new proposal would change the timeline. Instead of starting Feb. 1, Duffy said winter sports would begin Dec. 7 under the changed two-semester plan and the first play date would be Jan. 4. A fall sports schedule would begin Feb. 13, with games starting March 5. Spring sports would start April 17, with a first play date set for May 7.

Kiler said his main concern with trying to play in the fall would be what to do if the county gets hit with an outbreak of positive COVID-19 cases. An already shortened season would become that much shorter, he said. He said he didn’t think it would be fair to fall athletes.

Herbert and Battaglia lobbied for fall sports to be played this fall, but Herbert agreed with Kiler that fall would get short-changed. Battaglia said any games in the fall are better than none at all.

“It’s just not the same,” Battaglia said. “I think football, I think the Kenny Chesney song ‘The Boys of Fall.’ It’s running on that field, the dirt, the lights. You’re not going to have the crowd. Obviously we can’t do that. But it’s just ... being there with your teammates.”

Kiler made his motion that CCPS adopt the MPSSAA plan and lobby the MSDE to allow the move to Dec. 7. But no other board members seconded his motion.

Instead, at Herbert’s urging, the board members agreed to get more information before next week’s BOE meeting from coaches and athletes regarding how they feel about trying to start two weeks after hybrid learning begins and open the fall season the week of Thanksgiving. They asked for public comment via email.

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Herbert said she couldn’t vote on whether to adhere to the MPSSAA’s two-semester plan without hearing from more people within Carroll’s sports community.

“I’m in a dilemma ... the weather is not good to play outside from February until at least the middle, the end of April,” she said. “I’m just trying to wrack this in my head.”

Ed Singer, the county’s top health officer, who is not in favor of starting sports and hybrid learning at the same time, said, “I’d do anything I can to support that second option,” referring to the Dec. 7 start date plan.

“I’m not selling this as, this as a guarantee, we can definitely do this,” Duffy said of altering the plan to allow sports to begin Dec. 7. “Because it still would need the support of MSDE. But it would extend seasons and remove the overlap.”

Board President Donna Sivigny wondered if Carroll could align with other school systems to garner more support for the Dec. 7 start date timeline.

Duffy said the MPSSAA’s suggested switch has the support of all but a few of the state’s local school superintendents and/or supervisors of athletics.

“Finding other groups with whom you could band together, I think, would be pretty easy,” Duffy said. “Because everyone seems to find this as the middle ground that allowed for more opportunity for students.”

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