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Carroll County mulls when to start high school sports after getting go-ahead from state

Members of the Carroll County Board of Education spoke during their Wednesday night meeting about a desire to bring back high school sports as soon as possible.

Less than 24 hours later, the state came through with a plan that could give county athletes a chance to play in the near future.

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Maryland high school sports may return as soon as Oct. 7 with competitions allowed to begin Oct. 27, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said in a news conference Thursday, reversing a decision earlier this month to play abbreviated seasons for all sports beginning Feb. 1.

Salmon made clear that “local school systems who choose not to restart the fall sports season on Oct. 7 may use the second semester plan option as previously announced” by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association and that “local school systems can make their decisions based on their metrics at that point in time.”

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CCPS is mulling what to do, according to Carroll County Supervisor of Athletics Michael Duffy.

“At this time we are evaluating the new MPSSAA athletic timeline as provided by Dr. Karen Salmon this afternoon as to when the fall interscholastic season may begin,” Duffy said in a statement to Carroll’s high school athletic directors. “We are committed to starting in a timely and safe manner. As soon as we have a more definitive timetable for this, we will share it.”

The latest plan calls for the fall sports season to have seven weeks available for competition with practice starting Oct. 7, competitions from Oct. 27 through Dec. 12 and a “culminating event/tournament” taking place Dec. 14-19. The eight-week winter season would start practicing Dec. 14, hold competitions Jan. 4-Feb. 27 and have a final event March 1-13. The nine-week spring season would begin practicing March 15, have competitions April 5-June 5, and finish June 7-19.

Training and conditioning opportunities “shall begin as soon as possible,” Salmon said, noting that the Maryland State Department of Education and MPSSAA have "heard loudly and clearly from members of the school communities across the state, that there is a desire for more options as it relates to fall sports.”

Board member Marsha Herbert, a former high school coach, talked during the Wednesday night meeting about the importance of high school sports to athletes and said the MPSSAA has “tied our hands” in terms of allowing athletics to proceed in a uniform fashion.

Duffy spoke to the school board Wednesday as well. He said he heard the board’s plea to have county athletes participating in sports as soon as possible.

“We recognize we have a lot of work ahead of us in a very short time period,” Duffy said Thursday. “But we’re focused on our goal of providing the best opportunities we can for our students, which is our continual goal. ... We’re going to continue to seek our advice from the health department as we strive to make sure that we provide and ensure the safest environment possible based on this new timeline.”

Salmon made the announcement at a news conference with Gov. Larry Hogan, who also noted that Maryland parents have been clamoring for a return of high school sports. Hogan cited "record low positivity, record low number of [coronavirus] cases per 100,000″ and noted “our health metrics could not possibly be any better.”

“We think it’s really important to try to make efforts to get more of them back into face-to-face instruction and to give them the opportunity to have some of this sports activity that they also need,” Hogan said.

Liberty High School girls soccer coach Danielle Prietz agreed with the governor’s sentiments.

Prietz said she’s not worried about the updated fall timeline because it mirrors what would have taken place in August had the high school season started on time in a non-COVID situation. Prietz said she’d like to think Carroll County will follow the state’s recommendation to allow fall sports to begin late next month.

“I’ve always wondered in the back of my mind … I’ve been coaching club since June for lacrosse and soccer started in July for me,” she said. “I don’t see the reason why high school couldn’t have resumed.”

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Prietz said she’s ready to adjust to whatever restrictions or regulations might come down in the next few weeks.

“If things do fall into place, I think the season is not going to be the same, right?” she said. “So I think it would be fewer games, or you’re just playing in-county. You’re not doing the extent of the traveling that you would have done if you had a regular season.”

The MPSSAA announced Sept. 11 that it planned to conduct winter, fall and spring high school sports competitions beginning Feb. 1 and run through June 19. In that two-semester plan, the winter sports season would take place Feb. 1 through March 27; the fall season, March 15 through May 8; and the spring season, April 26 through June 19. Each season was to begin with a 20-day preseason and have five weeks of interscholastic athletic competition available.

The MPSSAA on Aug. 3 postponed the fall and winter seasons because of coronavirus concerns. That decision came after the 2020 spring season was canceled on April 28.

No public high school interscholastic competitions have taken place since March 7, the second day of the state basketball tournament quarterfinals, which were postponed the day of the semifinals March 12 and later canceled.

Public health experts say playing any sports and participating in practices and other events comes with at least some risk.

“It’s kind of putting the cart before the horse to be thinking about high school sports before we have students back in the classroom,” said Tara Kirk Sell, a senior scholar in the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “However, there are a number of sports that might be done with lower levels of risks, especially those occurring outdoors.”

Sell said her main concerns were activities done indoors, such as using training facilities and locker rooms.

Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said it was “a fundamentally bad idea” to play most sports. He said maybe non-contact sports could be done safely so long as everyone kept their distance, there were no crowds in the stands, and no one used a locker room.

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“That’s probably safer than contact sports like hockey, baseball, football, basketball, and soccer where you are huffing and puffing and wearing a mask really doesn’t work,” he said.

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Francis Scott Key football coach Will Thompson said a lack of communication from the top is one of his concerns in trying to return to play this fall.

“If we play, we’re going to be excited,” Thompson said. “We’d love to play, but my heart mourns for what we do when our kids can’t play because they took care of their bodies because they were told there wasn’t going to be a season. ... I just think there needs to be a united decision, something concrete, and then you roll with it. The season was postponed, I get it, I’m with it, but when we wait and wait and wait and there’s no communication and then we say ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing,’

"OK, well that’s what we’re doing, and then we revert back. People get hurt in that process. You can’t say one thing and do another.”

Tim Schwartz contributed to this article.

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