There will be no in-person high school athletic competitions in Howard County this fall.
During Thursday’s board of education meeting, Howard County school system Superintendent Michael Martirano said that the county will “not be participating in the state’s new plan, which began yesterday, Oct. 7.”
Instead, Martirano said that the county will be pushing for an alternate plan submitted by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association that would have in-person athletics begin statewide on Dec. 7. The Public School Superintendents' Association of Maryland (PSSAM) last Friday issued a letter to the State Superintendent Karen Salmon urging her to consider the plan, Martirano said.
“We will continue to advocate for the state’s adoption of the proposed Dec. 7 plan and target all of our preparation efforts for that date,” Martirano said. “If the state declines to adopt that plan, HCPSS will participate in the original two-semester plan adopted by the state that begins on Feb. 1.”
He added, in the meantime, Howard County will remain virtual in its interaction between coaches and players. The current regulations allow coaches to engage virtually with prospective team members for 60-90 minutes one day each week and most programs have already began utilizing that opportunity.
“It breaks my heart that I am not able to initiate the safe resumption of athletics immediately,” Martirano said. “I fully understand the benefits of athletics and other extracurricular activities for our children. We are moving towards a plan to ensure that these opportunities can begin safely and continue for the duration of the season.”
In a news conference alongside Gov. Larry Hogan on Sept. 24, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said high school sports couldreturn as soon as Oct. 7,with competitions allowed to begin Oct. 27. That announcement came after the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association on Sept. 11 released its plan to play all sports in the spring, starting Feb. 1.
Salmon said that local school systems that choose not to restart the fall sports season in October may still use the second-semester plan announced earlier by the MPSSAA.
Garrett, Washington and Allegany counties are the only counties in Maryland to decide on an October return; nearly every other system, including Anne Arundel and Harford County, has opted for the later start.
As for the new proposal that is awaiting approval by the state, Martirano detailed several benefits.
The December plan would add a week or two to each of the winter, fall and spring seasons compared to the two-semester plan that has sports beginning in February.
It would also eliminate some of the overlapping of seasons that would occur under the original two-semester model, which has the winter sports season scheduled to run from Feb. 1 through March 27; the fall season, March 15 through May 8; and the spring season, April 26 through June 19.
Just as important, compared to the October restart, Martirano said the December plan provides sufficient preparation time for:
“Districts to solidify the health metrics that they will use to base decisions for the return to in-person instruction and athletics.”
“Staff and schools to safely and properly reintroduce student-athletes to the physical rigors of competitive high school athletics including proper conditioning.”
“[Ensuring that] health protocols are adopted and implemented at every school and athletic facility and that we have sufficient coaching and training staff available.”
“[Districts to] develop thoughtful plans for transportation, crowd limitations, facility use, and competition schedules.”
Under the new, yet-to-be approved proposal, the first play date would be Jan. 4 for winter sports after tryouts begin Dec. 7. A fall sports season would begin Feb. 13, with games starting March 5. Spring sports would start April 17, with a first play date set for May 7.