School reopenings | Fall sports season remains uncertain

July 18, 2020
Alex Rychwalski

CUMBERLAND — The cancellation of the spring 2020 season due to the initial outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic seemed like a worst-case, albeit necessary, scenario.

But here we are, several months later, and the fall sports season in Maryland and West Virginia finds itself in a precarious situation. West Virginia has already pushed the football season back a week, scratching teams’ first games off the schedule.

Maryland, meanwhile, is still in a wait-and-see mode. With schools slated to reopen at the end of August, there isn’t much more time left to monitor if the virus will be controlled to a safe level to kick off play.

“Discussions have been going on at the state level and at the county level on how this fall season will play out,” Allegany High Athletic Director Tedd Eirich said. “This is a process that is very difficult to figure out and very slow-moving. … Right now, the only thing that has been done is the opening of coaches being allowed to start conditioning.”

The Allegany County Board of Education allowed teams to meet back up for voluntary workouts starting on July 7 and released guidelines outlining several safety procedures to limit any possible spread of the virus.

The guide — covering outdoor, weight room and cheerleading/dance team workouts — includes a mandate confining groups to no more than 15 (10 in the weight room), six-foot distancing, required face covering for staff, no sharing equipment before it’s been disinfected and a requirement that everyone brings their own water bottle, among other things.

And while discussions about the outlook of the fall season have taken place in Maryland, the state has yet to make any concrete alterations to the start of the athletic year.

“There are many different scenarios that are being played out by our county officials,” Eirich said. “There are committees being formed with attempts at getting sports back up and running as normal.

“As an ex-coach, I hope fall sports will be played as I wish that school will be held as normal. But I believe that most of us know that it is not going to happen that way until a vaccine is developed to stop this. The number one issue is to keep everyone safe.”

In Garrett County, Southern Athletic Director Matt Redinger said that while discussions about implementing the season have taken place, “how things are going to look have not been totally decided upon.”

Across state lines, West Virginia has taken a much different approach.

On July 10, Governor Jim Justice and WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan officially moved back the start of practice from Aug. 3 to Aug 17. Golf, because it has little player-to-player interaction, can tee off its campaign on Aug 24. Volleyball, cheerleading, cross-country and soccer are currently scheduled to begin competition on Sept. 2.

Football games will start up the day after on Sept. 3 in the current plan, forcing local teams to cancel their first games of the season. If they had moved their season back a week instead, it could have affected the likelihood of playoffs taking place.

At Keyser High School, summer workouts won’t begin until July 26. Athletes will be limited to groups of no more than 10, masks are required at all times inside the building and social distancing must occur at every possible opportunity.

Golden Tornado Athletic Director Shawn White is cautiously optimistic about the season.

“I’m a numbers guy,” White said. “If the numbers continue to rise like they have been, then we’ll be in big trouble. The fall season may be pushed back even more or canceled. If we can control it, then we’ll play games.

“I’m optimistic. I want the kids to play, it’s important for them to get involved and interact with each other on the field, but we don’t want the kids to take it home to their grandparents, and then they pass away.”

And that’s been the consensus so far among officials. Although athletes, parents and fans want the high school sports season to continue as scheduled, safety is the most important consideration.