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Howard County delays decision on high school sports return; turns to virtual engagement

As of Oct. 2, Howard County has not made a decision in regards to a return date for high school sports.
As of Oct. 2, Howard County has not made a decision in regards to a return date for high school sports. (Jen Rynda/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

It will be at least another week until any decisions are made regarding a return date for high school sports in Howard County.

In a statement released Friday, the Howard County Public School System said the topic of a return to play will be discussed publicly on Oct. 8 during the scheduled Board of Education meeting.

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“At this point, a decision has not yet been made regarding the return of high school athletics in Howard County. However, in-person practices will not begin on October 7, 2020,” the statement said. “HCPSS staff continue to participate in statewide discussions which will be considered before announcing any decisions.”

In the meantime, Howard County coaches continue to be permitted to “engage virtually with prospective team members for 60-90 minutes one day each week." The schedule for those meeting days are: fall sports on Mondays, winter sports on Wednesdays and spring sports on Fridays.

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As of Friday most, but not all, Howard County athletic programs have utilized the opportunity for virtual sessions in some fashion.

In a news conference alongside Gov. Larry Hogan on Sept. 24, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said high school sports could return 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.

So far, two counties — Allegany and Garrett — have officially opted to start in October, while Harford County is among those not moving forward with competitive sports before February. In a statement issued Oct. 1, Harford County Public Schools said that it will begin “virtual athletics” on Oct. 12 and in-person conditioning, training and intramural sports on Nov. 16.

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Carroll County recently discussed the return to play scenarios during its Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, and ultimately decided that it needed to hold another meeting on Oct. 7 to discuss the matter further. In the meantime, Carroll County is among the local jurisdictions that have restarted in-person sports-specific practices in small groups.

Howard County, on the other hand, remains in a virtual phase for both academics and athletics.

Centennial High is among several county programs that have had more than 90 percent of its coaches host at least one virtual session, and Athletics and Activities Manager Jeannie Prevosto said she has been “thrilled" with the early returns on the initiative.

“Honestly, it’s been a complete success from my perspective. Our coaches bought in right away and were excited about it, and we’re now up to 260 kids who have registered and are participating,” Prevosto said. “At the end of the day, kids want to be with their coaches and want to be with their peers. If we can’t be together in person, then this is the next best thing.

“I’ve sat in on a few now and the coaches are getting really creative, utilizing Hudl to go over film and really engage their players.”

For Rob Slopek, who took over as the Centennial varsity boys basketball coach after leading the school’s girls program the last three years, the virtual sessions are serving as a great introduction for him to his new players.

“Our staff is fantastic and is taking it very serious and really putting in the work to make this time as valuable as we can so when we hit the floor we don’t have to spend a lot of time 'teaching' new skills,” Slopek said. “It’s huge for us. I’m able to watch our staff work, while our kids are learning information and I’m able to connect with the guys."

Hammond volleyball coach Anne Corey, who is preparing for her eighth year at the helm, has been connecting virtually with her players since the pandemic began. She said she is in “Week 23 of sending out virtual workouts every Monday,” and has done a number of other check-ins.

Now with the more formal virtual sessions, she is looking at it as a chance to do some additional teaching.

“From an athlete standpoint, there’s no denying that there has been a bit of a letdown not having in-person competition right now. But, from my perspective, I’m trying to look at it as a positive where I have the opportunity to get a little bit more of the education piece in there,” Corey said.

She added that with the return date for fall sports in the air, she’s preaching to her players to be prepared for anything.

“I think that’s the hardest part; Not having that set date for the girls so that they can start preparing themselves not just physically, but also mentally,” Corey said. “For a lot of them, they might be working out and doing their best to stay in shape, but it’s not ever going to be the same as what we do when we are together. Health and safety is always going to be priority No. 1, so hopefully the more preparation we do now, the better things will go whenever we return.”

Spring sports have a little more time to prepare, regardless of which return to play option is chosen, and it’s in that light that Reservoir baseball coach Adam Leader is taking a more “informational” tone to his current virtual meetings with players.

“A lot of what we are doing is more checking in about school and how that is going, talking about where they are physically and any adjustments that might have to be made if our preseason ends up starting later than usual,” Leader said. “As we get toward the end of October, if we are still in the virtual stages, we’ll shift toward starting workout plans. For now, most of the guys are still playing 2-3 times a week, so the physical aspect of it isn’t quite as important.”

Leader added that, in addition to the meets with players, he plans to start virtual check-ins with team parents during October as well.

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