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Howard County winter sports resume practicing after extended pause; contests to begin Monday

Nearly three weeks after shutting down extracurriculars and athletics due to a surge of COVID-19 cases, the Howard County Public School System announced that schools can resume activities if they meet certain criteria. High school sports contests can begin Monday.

In a release issued Tuesday, the system wrote that extracurriculars with 25 or more participants will pause in-person activities when the current number of positive cases associated with that activity is five or more, and activities with less than 25 participants will pause when there are three or more cases. Activities can resume when fewer than five or three students, respectively, who tested positive are still in isolation.

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Schools that have already been designated as outbreak schools will evaluate activities and resume when meeting the new criteria. According to the state’s schools COVID-19 portal, Atholton, Glenelg and Reservoir all currently meet the criteria of outbreak schools. Atholton has 102 positive cases, Glenelg has 100, while Reservoir has three.

HCPSS spokesperson Brian Bassett said all 12 high schools have resumed athletic activities, though some teams still might not meet the new criteria and remain shut down.

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“It was awesome to be back at practice yesterday,” said Glenelg wrestling coach Matt Bichner, who called the system’s original decision to suspend athletics on Dec. 15 “cowardly” and “a disgrace.”

“The team seemed to have an emotional jolt and were excited to have the opportunity to participate in something they’re passionate about,” Bichner said. “My hope is the state opens regions so anybody who has or will lose match opportunities won’t be penalized or lose out on the postseason. We are looking forward to our first completion on Tuesday.”

Mt. Hebron girls basketball is among the dozens of teams that returned to practice at a school previously labeled to have an outbreak. Coach Tierney Ahearn said she got the final word on Wednesday that her group would be allowed to resume in-person activities Thursday.

“I’m excited and we’ll deal with it,” she said. “It’s just one of those moments when you go from thinking you’re done and it’s not something you’re even worried about and then all of a sudden now we’re back at it. It feels completely different.”

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The school system announced last month that all in-person extracurricular activities and sports would be canceled through Jan. 15. At the time, more than 3,700 students in the 57,000-student system were in quarantine, alongside 146 staff members, according to the system’s dashboard.

But HCPSS backtracked two days later on Dec. 17 and said outside athletic practices and games, theater and music rehearsals, tutoring sessions and field trips would all immediately resume with masking required, and schools would be allowed to resume indoor athletics practices, dance and music performances, and travel for extracurricular activities as of this week.

Activities, however, would remain suspended at several schools where there were high rates of spread of the virus.

The changes came after the school board met on Dec. 16 and overruled Superintendent Michael J. Martirano. The board voted to restore the activities under a plan Martirano was instructed to create that will include mandatory testing for students participating in athletics and theater. “This plan will be developed over the course of the next week and communicated as soon as it is completed. Athletics competitions and theater performances will be permitted to resume once that plan is in place” after Jan. 3, the statement said.

Martirano had said on Dec. 15 that he was suspending the activities because he hoped to make sure the spread didn’t prevent him from keeping schools open. “This decision has been made with that singular priority in mind,” he said.

This story may be updated.

Baltimore Sun sports editor Tim Schwartz contributed to this article.

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