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Gerstell Academy eyeing fall sports in 2020 after MIAA, IAAM opt for ‘open season’ athletic slate

Gerstell keeper Daniel Burns gets in position to stop a shot by a Saints Peter & Paul opponent during a boys soccer game at Gerstell Academy on Wednesday, September 11.
Gerstell keeper Daniel Burns gets in position to stop a shot by a Saints Peter & Paul opponent during a boys soccer game at Gerstell Academy on Wednesday, September 11. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Once in-person hybrid learning began in early September at Gerstell Academy, athletic director Phil Gilotte said his vision on how to bring athletics into the fold began to take shape. Gilotte said he felt fulfilled Monday morning when the state’s two premier private school athletic associations made official a joint decision to allow an open fall sports schedule in 2020.

The Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (boys sports) and Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland (girls), both of which Gerstell is a member, agreed to support a return-to-play strategy that affords its schools the opportunity to create schedules and have competition at their discretion amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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There won’t be an official starting date, according to the MIAA and IAAM’s statement, or any sanctioned postseason events. No schedules will be issued by the leagues, either.

“Today’s news was the first step, and then as soon as we found out scheduling becomes the fun [part],” Gilotte, who took over as Gerstell’s AD in July, said Monday afternoon. “This is the part of my job that I enjoy, when we have a plan and we’re being able to get the kids on the field.”

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For Gerstell, that means boys and girls cross country, boys and girls soccer, and an inaugural season of volleyball.

Gilotte said the Falcons plan on starting full fall sports practices next week, likely as early as Oct. 19. A complete time frame is still being put together, Gilotte said, and there will be safety guidelines and protocols in place going forward.

Gilotte said he hopes to be able to schedule 8-10 games for boys and girls soccer and volleyball, and 4-5 cross country meets. Gerstell is looking at 5 to 6 weeks of scheduling, Gilotte said, with games slated to begin in early November.

Gilotte said Friday, Oct. 30 could be the first play date if he can find opponents. While Gerstell will be unaffiliated this fall, like the rest of the MIAA and IAAM, Gilotte said the Falcons will aim to stay within the leagues when it comes to scheduling.

Carroll County Public Schools is scheduled to begin its hybrid learning format Oct. 19, but hasn’t made a decision on when to bring athletics on board. Meanwhile, Carroll Christian’s sports league, the Maryland Association of Christian Schools Athletic Conference, decided in August to allow outdoor fall sports in 2020.

“I’m just excited that the league has come up with ... a decision so that we can plan and move forward as a school,” Gilotte said. “A month or two ago, we were thinking if we were going to have fall sports it was going to crammed between winter and spring.”

The MIAA and IAAM postponed their fall seasons indefinitely Aug. 13, but league officials met last week to reassess the situation. An agreement was reached Friday, and the leagues released a statement Monday with more information.

Gerstell Academy junior Emily Messinese looks to pass the ball while covered by Catholic's Ava DeFelice during the second half of their game in Finksburg Tuesday, October 8, 2019.
Gerstell Academy junior Emily Messinese looks to pass the ball while covered by Catholic's Ava DeFelice during the second half of their game in Finksburg Tuesday, October 8, 2019. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County TImes)

“With the majority of our Member Schools welcoming students back onto campuses, the Boards of Governors from both leagues met and proposed two alternatives for consideration,” the statement reads. “A vote was taken on Friday by school leadership from both leagues and an ‘Open Season’ approach resulted.”

The statement goes on to say that the “shared focus of the MIAA and IAAM always has been and will remain, to find ways to return student-athletes to the courts and fields of play and to support healthy competition in a safe manner. It is our hope that this decision will provide that opportunity under these very trying circumstances.”

Gerstell’s fall sports teams have been participating in modified practices, in smaller groups, since Sept. 21. But Gilotte said the fate of the athletic season was in limbo until league members put in place feasible academic plans. Now, with most schools agreeing on a return to their buildings, Gilotte said things such as how to manage transportation and implementing safety guidelines can be hashed out.

Gilotte said he has received early positive feedback from the Gerstell sports community regarding the MIAA/IAAM ruling, and he’s looking forward to athletic competition returning to the Finksburg campus.

Gilotte said Gerstell school officials have been talking about a contingency plan for several weeks, ready to go if given the chance.

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“So ... when they told us we could do it, I almost had in my head exactly how we were going to do it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of finding the other schools to go and do it.”

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