Howard County sports took another step on the road back to normalcy on Friday.
Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano announced in a district-wide email that system sporting events won’t have capacity limits anymore.
Starting this week, no passes are required to watch public school sports in the county. For the past few months, and in the early weeks of the COVID-shortened spring season, spectators were required to have passes from one of the game’s participating athletes in order to attend.
“I am pleased that we have made tremendous progress and that this easing of restrictions is finally possible,” said Martirano in the press release. “I remind the entire Howard County community to continue to follow healthy and safe practices that prevent the spread of COVID-19, and to take advantage of the many vaccination opportunities available in our community.”
POLL: Each week this spring, we are letting the community help pick a Howard County boys and girls Athlete of the Week. Our staff, after consultation with coaches and receiving nominations, will pick players from each of the spring sports and then let voting decide the rest. To participate, either vote below or click here for the boys poll and/or click here for the girls poll by 11 p.m. Tuesday.
All spectators — vaccinated or unvaccinated — are still required to wear masks at the outdoor events. Anne Arundel County, on the other hand, announced Friday not only the lifting of its capacity restrictions, but also that masks were no longer mandatory for attendees at athletic events.
The announcement came a few days after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s new state orders that removed outdoor venue restrictions and eased outdoor masking requirements. Then on May 14 Hogan announced the lifting of the state’s mask mandate for most indoor and outdoor settings. However, outdoor venues like Camden Yards aren’t included in the orders, and Martirano said in the press release that the district’s policy to have spectators wear masks is “in alignment with the state’s orders.”
The easing of restrictions, according to Hogan and Martirano, is due to the state’s vaccination rate — which reached 70% of adults this week — as well as the quickly improving coronavirus metrics.
In Howard County, for example, the virus’ presence is lower than at nearly any time during the pandemic, due in large part to the county’s high vaccination rate. Howard, which boasts the highest vaccination rate in the state at 61% of all residents (adults and children), has a weekly positivity rate of 1.25% and has had only 87 COVID-19 cases in the last seven days — both of which are lower than at any point since last summer — according to the Maryland Department of Health.
Howard Community College esports team wins another championship
The Howard CC esports program didn’t exactly start off on a high note.
In its first-ever event, the Dragons’ Rocket League team lost to UCLA in a blowout.
Nine months later, though, Howard CC esports has two championships under its belt, with the most recent coming from its Rocket League squad. On April 26, the Dragons won the New England Collegiate Conference Rocket League championship with a 4-0 match win over top-seeded Northcentral Technical College.
With the victory, the Dragons became the first team in NECC history to win multiple championship trophies. In November, Howard CC won the NECC League of Legends championship over Newberry College.
“[The program] has obviously exceeded every expectation I had,” said Mark Winkel, Howard CC’s esports coordinator. “To be honest, my one and only goal for this season was to get participation and to show the administration that their investment in us was well founded. I don’t think anybody could’ve predicted the success we ended up having, with 30 student-athletes and winning two titles in two different game titles.”
The championship matchup was a revenge opportunity for Howard CC, which lost to NTC twice in the regular season by scores of 3-1 both times. The Dragons also had exciting wins to get to the title game, with victories over Army West Point and the University of Alabama.
The team’s starting roster is Logan Ghandi, Akaash Patel and captain Jeremy Hotchkiss — a Columbia native and Long Reach High graduate.
“Rocket League,” available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, is a unique sports game with both casual and competitive roots. Each team has three players who each operate vehicles, and the two squads battle over a large soccer ball to score goals on the other team.
The Dragons fell behind early in the first game, but Ghandi then scored two goals to put Howard CC ahead. In the second game, Patel found the back of the net on an aerial goal to take the lead, but NTC tied it with one second remaining to send the game to overtime. In overtime, Patel slammed home a score for the win.
In game three, Hotchkiss found Ghandi on a slick cross on a key goal, and Patel scored the game-winning goal with 30 seconds left. Ghandi then scored the championship point in the fourth game to cap off the Dragons’ win.
Winkel said he’s proud of his team’s growth and communication.
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“It’s been really fun to see the development of the team,” Winkel said. “At the start of the fall season, their communication was not great and there wasn’t much team synergy, but now they took it all the way to win a championship. They have that team chemistry now, and their execution of game plans is flawless at this point. It’s been amazing.”