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Our View: School board members have only one viable choice on high school sports start date | COMMENTARY

When the Carroll County Board of Education convened its Sept. 30 meeting, the board members had two viable, state-endorsed choices to vote on regarding when to allow high school sports to start.

They could’ve chosen the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s original plan to hold off on athletics until Feb. 1, and then contest condensed winter, spring and fall seasons over the next 4 1/2 months. Or, they could’ve chosen to essentially start right away, as the MPSSAA had also given its blessing to beginning fall practice on Oct. 7.

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The board members opted not to vote, putting off the decision for a week. But they also decided they didn’t want sports beginning before students had returned to classes for in-person learning under the hybrid model that is planned to start Oct. 19. So the choice became starting fall practice on Nov. 2 with games on Nov. 23 or choosing the original plan and waiting a few months. Additionally, they learned at the most recent meeting of a proposal to move the start date for winter season practice up from Feb. 1 to Dec. 7 on that original plan, thereby adding a week or two to each season and eliminating overlap.

Again, the board members opted not to vote, putting off the decision for another week.

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In reality, there is no decision. The opportunity to play a fall season this fall was lost when they didn’t vote on Sept. 30. Commencing practice last week and playing games from Oct. 27 through mid-December would’ve been a decent approximation of a typical season. Commencing practice in early November and playing games from three days before Thanksgiving through mid-December is not a season. Going forward with this would be unfair to fall athletes.

“No coach, no player wants three weeks,” Century High School football player Hunter Ebert told us. “If we could have started Oct. 7, had a six-game or seven-game season, and it would have been semi-normal, that would have been my first choice. But that’s out of the question now.”

Exactly.

We appreciate that several of the board members feel passionately about getting athletes back on the field, for physical, mental and emotional health reasons. And we know trying to get hybrid learning and sports off the ground currently would have been a monumental challenge. We also appreciate the sentiment expressed Wednesday about wanting to check with coaches and players regarding which plan they prefer before voting. And we know neither choice is ideal.

But, again, there really is no choice at this point. The opportunity to play a season this fall was lost when the board didn’t vote on Sept. 30 to start practice Oct. 7.

We understand and agree that education is the top priority. And the optics of kids playing football or soccer together before they are allowed in classrooms together would be bad. On the other hand, hundreds of athletes have been meeting at schools for weeks for conditioning and organized team activities. No, it’s not exactly the same as practice and games. But it is getting together on the fields and courts and courses of Carroll. And, as the board members have pointed out, these same kids have been playing rec, travel and AAU sports for months.

If the board members felt strongly that kids needed to play their fall season in the fall, they should’ve voted for that at the meeting-before-last and allowed student-athletes to start practicing last week. They didn’t and that’s fine. But they shouldn’t waste another moment of meeting time discussing this.

They need to hold their noses, vote for the MPSSAA’s original plan and hope the proposal to move up the start date, which seems to be endorsed by leadership throughout the state, goes through. But even if that doesn’t happen, starting in February and having all athletes play five-week seasons is better than starting in November and consigning fall athletes to three.

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