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Carroll County making plans for return to fall high school sports, despite uncertain future

Westminster's Emily Crowder entertains her teammates during players introductions before a girls soccer game at Winters Mill High School on Saturday, October 12.
Westminster's Emily Crowder entertains her teammates during players introductions before a girls soccer game at Winters Mill High School on Saturday, October 12. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

The first day of practice for fall high school sports in 2020 is Aug. 12, as mandated by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. Whether the coronavirus pandemic will affect the calendar is still uncertain, but Carroll County is trying its best to plan ahead.

Michael Duffy, the county’s supervisor of athletics, said Carroll is in the process of creating a schedule that will allow fall sports athletes and coaches to gather for conditioning and practice activities. But with schools still closed because of the pandemic, Duffy said the plan is being put in place with an understanding.

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“We may need to make adjustments based on the facts at the time,” he said. “It only makes sense for us to plan based on what the calendar is supposed to read, rather than try to scramble at the last minute. It’s much easier to plan for the normal and adjust, than plan that normal won’t happen and then it does, and then we have to scramble. We don’t want to do that.”

Maryland Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon last week announced high schools will be allowed to resume practice and training activities by following the same guidelines being used by youth athletics. Salmon’s ruling followed Gov. Larry Hogan’s May 27 decision to let youth sports being “low-contact” practices outdoors. Social distancing protocols must be followed, and staff and athletes should be screened for COVID-19.

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The state-provided guidelines also say equipment and gear must be cleaned, and that hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water or the like be available, and indoor locker use is prohibited.

Duffy said Carroll County is proceeding as though fall sports will begin Aug. 12 with the first day of practice and tryouts, albeit with caveats.

“We are hopeful that we’re going to have fall sports. I’m just not sure what that will look like yet,” Duffy said. “We’re doing that in consultation with the MPSSAA, with our other colleagues in other jurisdictions, as well as all of our local officials here.”

Athletes can take advantage of open field activities, or non-sports specific conditioning, but nothing is taking place at any of the county schools with the facilities being closed. Once they’re open, Duffy said proper safety protocols need to be in place before any such practices can begin.

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Spring high school sports never got started back in March, once the coronavirus pandemic swept through Maryland. By late April, the season was officially canceled. Salmon announced one week later public schools were closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 calendar year.

Not the timeline Duffy and his Carroll athletics colleagues had hoped to be dealing with, but he said planning for the future is the focus now.

“That’s what we are working towards, to get our students back to working with coaches as soon as feel we can safely manage that,” he said. “We’re moving forward with the expectation that will happen, with the understanding that we can make adjustments. As the facts change, our decisions could change.”

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