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Carroll County fall high school athletes, coaches weigh in on when to begin sports seasons

Century's Daniel Cooper, right, rushes onto the field to celebrate with teammates following their 2-0 win over Liberty during a boys soccer playoff game at Liberty High School on Tuesday, October 29.
Century's Daniel Cooper, right, rushes onto the field to celebrate with teammates following their 2-0 win over Liberty during a boys soccer playoff game at Liberty High School on Tuesday, October 29. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Hunter Ebert said he wanted very much to be getting ready for his senior football season at Century High School. Erick Stranko, a senior at Westminster High School, said the same thing.

What the varsity athletes also agreed on was that they’d rather wait and play as many games as possible instead of trying to fast-track something in the fall, a suggestion raised by some Carroll County Board of Education members during their Wednesday night updates meeting.

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The board decided to wait one more week before voting on when to get high school athletics back on the Carroll County Public Schools calendar. Since the BOE recently agreed not to begin sports at the same time as its hybrid learning model, which slated to begin Oct. 19, a fall season wouldn’t start until at least two weeks after that.

That means competition for sports such as cross country, soccer, field hockey, football, and volleyball wouldn’t be allowed until 20 days after practice starts, per Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rules, on or about Nov. 23, and then ending three weeks later. (Golf doesn’t adhere to the same MPSSAA practice-day plan and could begin earlier.)

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Manchester Valley's Rubie Goffena, right, leads Towson's Madeline Till as they approach the finish in the Class 3A girls race during the MPSSAA State Cross Country Championships at Hereford High School on Saturday, November 9.
Manchester Valley's Rubie Goffena, right, leads Towson's Madeline Till as they approach the finish in the Class 3A girls race during the MPSSAA State Cross Country Championships at Hereford High School on Saturday, November 9. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

“I don’t want three weeks of games,” Ebert said. “I want to have an actual season.”

Stranko said it “wouldn’t feel anything special just playing one game and then being done.”

Another option lies with the MPSSAA’s “Roadmap for Return to Interscholastic Athletics and Extracurricular Activities” plan, which was announced in September. Under the current timeline, the winter sports season is scheduled to run from Feb. 1 through March 27; the fall season from March 15 through May 8; and the spring season from April 26 through June 19.

Some of Carroll’s athletes reacted favorably to that news when it came out last month. Liberty High School football player Tommy Nelson shared an article about the MPSSAA’s decision on his Twitter feed and added “Let’s go” to the post.

The MPSSAA has a suggestion in place to alter that schedule, however, which provides another option for Carroll to ponder. Instead of starting Feb. 1, winter sports would begin Dec. 7 under the changed plan and the first play date would be Jan. 4. A fall sports schedule would then begin Feb. 13, with games starting March 5. Spring sports would start April 17, with a first play date set for May 7.

Michael Duffy, Carroll’s supervisor of athletics, presented the proposed adjusted timeline during Wednesday’s BOE meeting and said it needs approval from the Maryland State Department of Education before moving forward. The Dec. 7 start date allows for the seasons to avoid overlapping, Duffy said.

Carroll County Board of Education members Tara Battaglia and Marsha Herbert made their feelings known during the meeting in regards to getting high school sports, along with CCPS’ other extra-curricular activities, back on the calendar as quickly as possible once the hybrid learning model takes hold.

Battaglia said she has been hearing from parents and students who just want to get back onto a field, no matter the opponents or number of contests.

“They’re fine with that,” Battaglia said. “It’s just giving them something so they have that experience and they have that passion that they want to do.”

That’s not how athletes such as Ebert and Stranko see it, they said.

Century's Landon Bruce, left, scores a touchdown against Glenelg in the first half of a playoff football game.
Century's Landon Bruce, left, scores a touchdown against Glenelg in the first half of a playoff football game. (Steve Ruark For Baltimore Sun Media/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

“I would much rather play a full season. I wouldn’t want just one game,” Stranko said. “If there’s a chance of any way playing a full season, that’s definitely what I would want. It sounds like the best answer is just to play later.”

Ebert said he and everyone he has talked to, from fellow Century athletes to as well as others in southern Carroll, believe the better idea is bringing high school sports back in line with the MPSSAA’s plan.

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“No coach, no player wants three weeks,” Ebert said. “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.”

Sabina Rinda, a senior volleyball player at Westminster, said she’d rather play a full season at some point. But if faced with not playing at all or playing a handful of matches next month, the Owls hitter said she’s good with aiming for the fall.

“I feel like even just a few games would be good ... whatever they can get in,” Rinda said. “I would just love to play with my team. They’re always, like, switching what is happening. We never really know what’s for sure. As long as I get something. Even if it’s in the spring and we don’t get a full season, that’s perfect too.”

Liberty field hockey coach Brenda Strohmer said she’s in favor of having a more complete fall sports season take place in 2021 ― anything other than trying to force a traditional fall schedule into a small window.

“Nobody wants to play one game. They want to have a season,” said Strohmer, who guided Liberty to a state championship in 2019. “I mean, it’s crazy. And they want to have a season that’s worthwhile. ... I’m for starting in the spring. Let the kids get used to whatever it is they’re doing schooling-wise. Let them fix that and then focus on sports.”

BOE member Ken Kiler made a motion late in the meeting for Carroll County Public Schools to adhere to the MPSSAA’s plan, whether it starts Dec. 7 or Feb. 1. He did not get a second, however, and the motion was not voted upon.

Kirby Henneman, a senior field hockey player at Westminster, said she was watching the board meeting online Wednesday night with great interest. Henneman said she opted for surgery in late August to repair a torn labrum in her left hip, after talking with her family and assuming her hockey season would be taking place in 2021.

Hearing board members discuss bringing sports back this month gave Henneman a sick feeling, she said.

“It honestly crushed me as soon as I heard that they were thinking about putting sports in October,” said Henneman, who was part of the Owls' state championship team last fall. “I was like, ‘This is never going to happen ... if anything, they’re going to push it back.’ I never would have thought that they would push it sooner. And my parents thought the same thing.”

Henneman, who plays lacrosse during the spring season, said she’s for getting in as much of a regular season as possible, and she hopes the decision is made to adhere with the MPSSAA’s plan.

“The whole [Dec. 7] plan definitely sounds a little more logical if they can get it passed, because of the whole not having to overlap,” she said. “I feel like that’s one of the biggest things.”

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