DENTON — Caroline County Public Schools announced Tuesday it's sticking with the two-semester plan announced by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Sept. 11.
The two-semester plan allowed practices to begin immediately, while implementing abbreviated seasons during the second semester of the school year. Gov. Larry Hogan and state superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon announced last Thursday, Sept. 24, that local school systems have the option to choose between that plan and starting normal fall sports practices on Oct. 7 and beginning competition Oct. 27.
Colonel Richardson High athletic director Brett Ireland said the county decided against beginning competitions in October to focus on getting back to in-person education.
"They wanted to get kids back in the building," Brett said. "That's their first priority is to educate the kids and get them back in the building before we start going over the other stuff. We just followed our superintendent’s lead as far as that's concerned."
Additionally, Caroline County will begin sports-related practices in October, as allowed by the Sept. 11 MPSSAA announcement.
Beginning Oct. 5, all sports can do in-person conditioning. From Oct. 19 to Nov. 13, spring sports can practice. From Nov. 16 to Dec. 18, fall sports can practice. Winter sports can practice from Jan. 4, 2021, to Jan. 29, which will lead into their season starting Feb. 1.
"We just wanted to re-engage our student athletes," Brett said. "We thought the best way was to (break) it down into mini-seasons. That way, we didn't have, ‘This night of the week is this sport, and this night of the week is that sport.’ Everybody's got a mini-season, and you get four weeks with that you go from there."
North Caroline High athletic director Nash Ireland knows there will be challenges with starting in-person practices, but he's looking forward to getting his student-athletes back in action.
"We're very excited," Nash said. "It could be a little challenging, but we're excited to make it work. We're hopefully gonna be able to get a lot of kids out of here that can safely get back into the groove of things a little bit. It's gonna be a lot of work on our end but we'll make it happen."
Brett Ireland, who is also Colonel Richardson's softball coach, is excited to get back to coaching. He acknowledged it'll be chilly playing softball in November but said he is hoping that when they practice during the afternoons, the weather will be comparable to early March, when softball season normally begins.
He also said waning daylight factored into the decision.
"One of the reasons we did decide to do spring first was because of the daylight issue," Brett said. "If football or soccer needed to use the stadium, they’ve got access to lights, whereas baseball, football, tennis, we don't have (lights)."
Over the last month, many athletes and parents have pushed for sports to fully return in the fall. Hogan and Salmon's announcement provided hope that outcome was possible. Returning to sport-related practices (as opposed to general conditioning) is a positive step, but it may seem insignificant to those who wanted competition seasons in fall.
Nash Ireland wanted them to know these decisions were made with the students' safety in mind.
"As (Caroline County Public Schools Superintendent) Dr. (Patricia) Saelens said, our priority right now is getting the kids back in the classroom," Nash said. "We're trying to do all that as safely as possible, with that kind of being the priority. Being able to get something going this fall, and still be able to have a competition season in the spring, we're excited to be able to do that."
North Caroline head baseball coach Mark Potter is glad his team will get a chance to practice in the fall. After losing the entire season last spring — and with a team he felt lost an opportunity to compete for a state championship — Potter thinks the fall work will be important for the season ahead.
However, Potter has some concerns about the MPSSAA's condensed season plan that Caroline County is using. He's worried about the health of multi-sport athletes, particularly athletes who play fall and spring sports and normally have winter off. He worries that not having any down time will lead to more injuries.
He's also concerned that squeezing more games into a week than normal will affect players' health, especially for pitchers.
"When it comes to pitchers, you've got to have your pitching because you're talking such a short season, (and) you can't throw these guys the 95 pitches that were allowed," Potter said, "the 95 to 105, whatever it is, you can't throw those guys that (much). You're not going to have them long enough to be able to do that. So, it could come down to — this year — knowing what you have on the mound."
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