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Carroll County axes 3 youth rec sports: Tackle football, wrestling, basketball competition prohibited due to COVID-19

Competition in three youth sports sponsored by Carroll County recreation councils — tackle football, basketball and wrestling — will not be allowed, effective immediately, due to concerns over COVID-19.

Jeff Degitz, director of Carroll County Recreation and Parks, made the announcement at the Thursday Board of Commissioners meeting. Competing in these sports has been identified as high risk for spreading the novel coronavirus by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said. The decision does not affect private travel teams as the recreation department does not have authority over them, Degitz later specified.


While there is a desire to safely provide sports for children, Degitz said in an interview there’s also the need to get out of the pandemic as quickly and safely as possible.

“One season for a particular sport may ultimately look rather small in comparison to what we’re going through as a county and a country,” he said.


The decision came about after getting feedback from local recreation councils and parents, Degitz said in the meeting, consulting with the Maryland Department of Health and considering what other counties are doing. “Drills and skills” practices in the three sports, which allow for social distancing, would be permitted.

If programs don’t comply to these new restrictions, Degitz said they will lose privileges like liability insurance for volunteers and the ability to use sports facilities.

Masks for spectators, travel restriction

The Department of Recreation and Parks is implementing further restrictions for rec league youth sports.

With Gov. Larry Hogan tightening mask restrictions, Degitz said the county will require face coverings for all spectators, and for athletes when they are not actively playing. That includes sitting on the bench, he added.

Rec council sports teams that are not tackle football, basketball or wrestling will be prohibited from traveling more than 30 miles for competition, Degitz said.

In the interest of speeding up contact tracing if there is an outbreak, athletes and volunteers will be asked to provide contact information to the county. This information is already collected by local rec councils, Degitz said, but having it readily available through his office will make contact tracing more efficient.

Ed Singer, head of Carroll County Health Department, wished the state provided more guidance on how to address parts of the pandemic, especially with youth sports.

“It’s all over the place,” he said. “Trying to have everybody struggle through the same decisions without clear guidance from the state level, I think is very hard.”


Comparing the spread of COVID-19 to sexually transmitted diseases, Singer said the less people everyone is exposed to, the less likely they’ll be to contract a disease. He shared data with the commissioners showing that Carroll is seeing a rolling average of some 14 new cases among the community at large per day. Last week, health department data showed 109 new community cases, a new high.

He encouraged athletes to wear masks whenever they can to prevent the spread of COVID-19, even on the field. Singer acknowledged it’s important to consider extreme heat and medical conditions that might make it difficult to wear masks.

“If we can keep the transmission between these kids down it’s going to keep their programs open,” Singer said. “If we wind up with outbreaks in the rec programs that are running, there’s a possibility they’re going to have to shut down... .”

The commissioners did not vote on the new youth sports restrictions, but asked questions of the staff.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, questioned why allowing practices for wrestling would be considered safe if children aren’t even attending school in person. When flag football was suggested as an alternative to tackle football, he also expressed doubts. Frazier has coached wresting for Century and South Carroll high schools and Gerstell Academy.

Singer replied that 20 children who wrestle in the same group is a safer scenario than holding a tournament with 20 teams from different regions, hence the prohibition of competition. In shaping this plan, he said county staff looked at what activities would be considered high, moderate and low risk.


“We were kind of looking at those moderate risk activities, trying to keep it at the moderate risk or below, and realizing that sports are very important to kids,” Singer said.

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Frazier appreciated the explanation, but still felt concerned.

“I’m still very apprehensive about this, however, I’m not the expert,” Frazier said. “Kids are not going to school, however, they can go to practices. That bothers me.”

Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, felt the county doesn’t need to restrict sports further than what Singer and Degitz suggested Thursday.

“We cannot bubble wrap these kids,” Rothstein said.

Rothstein wanted to know whether coronavirus relief (CARES) funding could be used to help supply youth sports teams with equipment. The funds have to be used for COVID-19 prevention, Singer said, but an argument could possibly be made use the money to help fund a sport like flag football in place of a less socially distant sport like tackle football. He said he would get back to the commissioners on that query, but made no promises.


The commissioners asked that Singer and Degitz keep them briefed weekly on the implementation of the youth sports policies.

“We know it’s not a perfect system,” Degitz said. “It’ll likely be adjusted as we go.”