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State allows high school sports to begin in October

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High School Soccer: Washington at North Dorchester

The North Dorchester High School boys’ soccer team celebrated senior night with a 9-2 victory over Washington High on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

FREDERICK — Gov. Larry Hogan and State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon announced in Frederick County Thursday that high school sports in Maryland are now allowed to fully begin in October.

Salmon said practices — which were already allowed under the Sept. 11 release by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association — would begin on Wednesday, Oct. 7. Golf competitions would also begin on Oct. 7. Competition for all other fall sports would begin Tuesday, Oct. 27.

This announcement follows the Sept. 11 MPSSAA release containing dates for condensed seasons beginning in February, as well as allowing practices, scrimmages and intramural sports to begin immediately.

However, the updated plan isn’t a firm mandate the entire state must follow. Each county’s school system will make its own decision to either begin fall sports in October or to follow the second-semester schedule released on Sept. 11.

The updated plan still requires adherence to all health protocols set by the Maryland Department of Health and the MPSSAA.

“The steps taken today are directly related to the needs of our students to be active and engaged for their physical, social and emotional well-being,” Salmon said. “These programs have had a history of providing opportunities for all students and not those just with the economic capacities to participate. The mentorship, camaraderie and daily structure with these experiences and what they provide not only supports our students’ academic success, but also has a generational history of reaching many at-risk youths, some of them struggling in their remote learning environment.”

The update comes after significant public pressure in favor of high school sports returning. A petition circulated across the Eastern Shore for several weeks advocating for sports to resume in the fall. During the Tuesday, Sept. 22 Maryland Board of Education meeting, several people spoke during the public comment section pushing for fall sports.

Hogan cited improved COVID statistics, which drove other recent steps toward re-opening the state, as a key in the decision as well as the timing of the announcement.

“Our health metrics have hit record lows every single day in the past week, and we’ve been trending downwards for more than three months,” Hogan said. “Because we now have all 24 jurisdictions with a plan to bring some kids back in class, we thought it was time to address this. We were working on this for months, and I think the State Department of Education and all of our experts thought that we were able to move forward.”

The announcement caught many by surprise. Many Bayside Conference athletic directors, including Cambridge-South Dorchester High’s Kareem Otey, were not given any indication this news was coming Thursday.

“I didn’t (know it was coming). Not at all,” Otey said. “Actually, was it yesterday, or maybe early this morning, I had heard that the Governor and Salmon were going to go on and make an announcement about athletics, so right when they said that, I thought to myself, ‘They’re about to open everything up.’ But no, I didn’t get a heads up or anything like that.”

Counties within the Bayside Conference were actively discussing plans to begin practices, in accordance with the Sept. 11 announcement. This update adds some chaos to those discussions.

Kent Island High Athletic Director and Bayside Conference President Dan Harding said the immediate next steps are for each county’s supervisors to meet with their superintendent and decide if the Oct. 7 plan is feasible.

He expressed concern about what would happen if districts act differently, and about high school sports returning before schools themselves are fully reopened.

“The MPSSAA has has already said in an earlier statement that we could begin anything from virtual to scrimmages immediately, and that was a couple weeks ago. So I think local areas were starting to build up programs potentially based on that,” Harding said. “But I think maybe the scary part of it is, we’re doing all of this from an athletic standpoint, before — at least in Queen Anne’s County — before we have even 50 percent of our kids in. It doesn’t seem normal that athletics goes before academics. I think that’s kind of a tough balance for us in the school system.”

Easton High girls’ head basketball coach Matt Griffith said if sports do begin in October, it would be huge for the athletes.

“I feel sorry for the football coaches that haven’t had any time to prepare and plan like normal. It would be definitely a learning curve for many of the programs. But for the kids would be great,” Griffith said. “I’d be ecstatic for them. I know they’d be happy and to see them out there on the football field again would bring joy to a lot of schools and the communities that support them.”

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

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