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COVID protocols shut down 6 Howard football teams, including 3 varsity programs; numerous games postponed

The Long Reach and Atholton varsity football teams line up before a play during their scrimmage on Thursday. Both teams have paused activities and their Week 1 games have been postponed due to coronavirus issues.
The Long Reach and Atholton varsity football teams line up before a play during their scrimmage on Thursday. Both teams have paused activities and their Week 1 games have been postponed due to coronavirus issues. (Israel Carunungan)

Three varsity and three junior varsity football teams at five Howard County high schools will not play their scheduled season openers Friday due to coronavirus issues and related contact tracing, the Howard County Times has learned.

According to several coaches and athletics and activities administrators, the six programs that have halted activities are the varsity teams at Atholton, Long Reach and Oakland Mills and the JV teams at Glenelg, Long Reach and Mount Hebron. As a result, half of the Week 1 varsity contests have been postponed, while the two contests involving the JV teams are also off.

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Making up postponed games during the corresponding bye weeks for each program in April was discussed as a possibility when the county’s athletic schedule was finalized last month. At the moment, however, no official decisions have been announced for the postponed games.

“Identified close contacts and students/families who are impacted by changes to the athletic calendar are contacted directly,” wrote Howard County school system spokesperson Brian Bassett in a statement Tuesday morning. “If a larger public health notice is needed, HCPSS will work with the Health Department.”

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Bassett also said the district will have a daily dashboard of positive cases in schools starting Wednesday.

Oakland Mills varsity football, which scrimmaged Wilde Lake on Thursday and was set to host Marriotts Ridge, cannot return to practice until March 17, according to Oakland Mills High Athletics and Activities Manager Troy Stevenson. Stevenson said the current plan is to still play the Week 2 game against Mount Hebron on March 19.

Since practices began on Feb. 13, some coaches and AAMs around the county have expressed concerns about the gray area that goes along with the contact tracing for athletic teams.

“I think football is even more delicate [than other sports] because one person might determine close contact differently than another. So it’s tough to be consistent,” Stevenson said. “Humans can fabricate, leave information out or possibly even give incorrect information simply because they don’t understand what’s being asked of them.”

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Howard County Health Department spokesperson Lisa DeHernandez wrote in an email Tuesday morning that the coach determines who on their team are close contacts, following the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maryland Department of Health.

“CDC and MDH guidelines are [used if] a person [is] within six feet or less for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period of an infected person regardless of mask wearing. However, if there is close contact with a person’s infected respiratory droplets, then anytime is considered an exposure. There is also both quantity and quality of exposure, if a person has had high intensity contact for a shorter amount of time, they may still be considered a contact.”

Both the varsity and JV teams at Long Reach, which scrimmaged Atholton last week, have been shut down and will not play Glenelg, said varsity head coach Jamie Willis.

“I told them today how important it is to stay vigilant and stay protected,” Willis said. “We need to be accountable to each other and especially to our seniors who are just trying to play the last few games of their football careers. ... We need to understand this is not about any individual but it’s about us as a group.”

Atholton’s varsity team was set to host River Hill, and the status of the team’s March 19 game against Hammond has not yet been determined.

While the JV teams at Mount Hebron and Glenelg are both pausing activities, their varsity teams have not been affected Centennial varsity will still host the Vikings on Friday.

The varsity games between Hammond and Wilde Lake as well as Howard and Reservoir are also on as originally scheduled.

Football isn’t the only Howard County sport that has had teams shut down and miss regular season games due to the coronavirus. The Mount Hebron volleyball team had to shut down for two weeks in the preseason, resulting in the Vikings’ first two contests of the season being postponed.

While Anne Arundel County has yet to begin its competitive season, two varsity football teams have had coronavirus issues. Severna Park High last month paused in-person activities for two weeks, while a Southern High varsity football player who attended practice Feb. 25 subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. But the team has been allowed to continue practicing after the county health department identified close contacts of the student-athlete.

Howard County’s shortened fall sports season began with practices in mid-February. Three sports — volleyball and boys and girls soccer — had their first competitions last Friday. Field hockey began Monday; golf tees off Wednesday; football kicks off Friday; and cross country starts Saturday.

The football season’s schedule was built for each team to play five games. The 12 teams were split into the school system’s three area formations, and each squad is scheduled to play the other teams in its division for the first three games.

The standings will then determine the opponents for each team’s final two games, as each team will play the corresponding teams in the other two division standings. For example, the top team in Division A will play each of the top teams in divisions B and C, while the second-best team in Division A will play each of the second-best teams in B and C.

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