Easton High School sports practice field

The Bayside Conference is moving closer to beginning in-person sports practices.

The Bayside Conference has moved closer to beginning practices, whether in-person or virtual, by the end of September.

A previously scheduled meeting with every Bayside athletic director Wednesday morning served a different purpose following the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association announcement last Friday, Sept. 11, which established dates for sports seasons and immediately allowed practices. The ADs used the meeting to discuss each others’ plans moving forward and try to develop as consistent an approach as possible.

Athletic directors were instructed to discuss practices with their school system’s superintendent, athletic supervisor and county health officer and develop a plan. Each school system’s plan will require MPSSAA approval.

While plans could differ from county to county, the athletic directors felt confident practices could begin by the end of September or October.

“If we’re going virtual, I think you could look at the end of September,” said Dan Harding, Kent Island High athletic director and Bayside Conference president. “I said in the meeting, the reason to prepare virtual is so that if we get shut down again completely, at least there’s something to fall back on. I would say it would be reasonable to expect sometime in the month of October, you could have on-campus practices if the health metrics speak to it and the superintendents agree.”

Harding acknowledged coaches would prefer in-person over virtual, but said the athletic directors reached a consensus that virtual practices would be better than nothing if COVID-19 positivity rates spiked after in-person practices resumed.

Only one Bayside county (Worcester) has announced a plan for practices. Each school system’s discussions about practices could take different amounts of time, and some counties will inevitably be ready to move forward earlier than others.

Cambridge-South Dorchester athletic director Kareem Otey said she has a meeting with Dorchester County administrators Friday, Sept. 18, and is hopeful a plan will emerge from that meeting.

While Bayside ADs will remain in close contact about each others’ practice plans, there won’t be a Bayside-wide plan. Each county will make its own decision.

Harding said the conference will, however, give a strong recommendation to split practice times up between sport seasons throughout the fall and winter until the Feb. 1 start date for winter sports. He said most athletic directors at the meeting were in agreement with starting with either fall or spring sports practices, then moving to the other, and then finishing with winter sports practices.

“It would go spring sports first, then fall, then winter. And then the modified game schedule would go winter, then fall, then spring,” Otey said. “(It applies for every sport equally), same thing for all the seasons. That way it gives those multi-sport athletes the opportunity to participate in all the sports they play and not just having to choose (if) football and baseball are running at the same time, now I have to pick.”

“I’m hopeful that we will, in some capacity, be working with our teams at the end of this month. It’s just a matter of how much,” Otey said.

If one county allows teams to start practicing in-person significantly earlier than others, that would create a competitive advantage for that county’s schools. That wasn’t addressed at the meeting, but Harding said if a county held off in-person practicing for an extended period of time because of something unrelated to COVID-19, the competitive advantage discussion would arise quickly. It would add to already growing tension between some coaches in various counties about what some counties have and haven’t been allowing throughout the pandemic.

However, Otey downplayed the potential competitive advantage aspect of these decisions.

“If one county is allowed to practice for five weeks and then other counties are only allowed to practice for one or two weeks, obviously the more practice you get, the better you’re going to be,” Otey said. “But it is what it is. We all realize that everybody’s not going to have the same plan, and we’re just going to have to roll with it. And it’s not just now, there are counties that have more funds to have better equipment and things like that. So there’s always somebody that’s going to have a slight bit more of an advantage. You’ve just got to make the best with what you have.”

Another topic discussed at the athletic directors’ meeting was fans at games if the season goes on as outlined in the MPSSAA announcement. Harding said the ADs agreed each school could monitor a safe number of fans in attendance.

“It would be nice to have an athlete be able to have their family there, and maybe that’s just their parents. And then perhaps a select number of pre-sold tickets for students to limit the number greatly but allow there to be some semblance of normalcy around fans,” Harding said. “But especially the moms and dads and grandparents that are raising the kids, they should be able to go see their kid play if we’re allowed to be out and playing sports.”

The MPSSAA announcement established five-week competition seasons for each sport season. It went on to say the organization will provide an update in October regarding potential state championships. Should the MPSSAA opt to not hold a state championship, Harding said the conference will do its best to hold a Bayside championship for every sport.

That October update will guide Bayside schools in scheduling games. The Bayside athletic directors scheduled another meeting for early-to-mid-November, and scheduling would likely be a more prominent topic at that meeting.

However, Harding said schedules would try to stay as regional as possible — North Bayside schools would play against mostly, if not only, North Bayside opponents, and South Bayside schools would play against mostly, if not only, South opponents.

In all, Harding was encouraged by the meeting.

“It was a great meeting, everybody’s excited about honestly being able to discuss athletics,” Harding said. “Who knows what the future’s going to hold with the flu season and everything else. But I think the Bayside Conference has done a fantastic job of staying together and at least trying to push. We honestly talked very little, if at all, about competitive sports and just mainly about re-engaging students because they just feel they need it. And that’s not normal, when you get a group of competitive coaches and athletic directors in a room, to just say ‘I would love to just see kids out there on the field, and wins and losses are a distant thing,’ that’s a unique time. So yeah, I’m encouraged.”

Follow me on Twitter @SethTow. Follow us on Instagram @StarDem_Sports.

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