WORTON — With public health metrics moving in the wrong direction, the Kent County school system’s Return to Play Committee on Tuesday canceled the 2020-21 high school swimming and wrestling seasons and pushed back the start of the remaining winter sports until early January.
On Wednesday, Kent County Superintendent Karen Couch announced that beginning Monday, Dec. 7, Kent County Public Schools would return to fully remote instruction for all students.
Kent County Athletic Director Kevin Taylor said he believes Kent is the first county on the Eastern Shore to cancel a winter sport this year due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think they’ll be others. They’re probably waiting to see what schools around them are doing,” Taylor said in a telephone interview Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Winter sports at Kent County High were scheduled to start Dec. 7.
A swim season would have been problematic because pool time at Washington College’s Casey Swim Center was to be limited to one hour a day and only several days a week, and there would have been no meets, Taylor said.
Plus, the pool would not be available for KCHS use once college students return in January for the spring semester.
The cancellation of the wrestling season was not unexpected. The National Federation of State High School Associations has characterized the sport as one of “higher risk” related to transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“Even though we knew there was a high probability we wouldn’t have a season, we still had hope,” Kent County head wrestling coach Chris Yiannakis wrote Wednesday in an email to the Kent County News.
Loss of the season “stings,” he said.
Yiannakis was heading into the third season as head coach at his alma mater and was well on his way to rebuilding a program that once ruled the region.
The list of returnees included two state tournament qualifiers who each won more than 30 matches last season.
“My heart goes out to our four seniors. They lose the most,” Yiannakis wrote in the email. “They were the guys who pulled this program back up. Now they have no more chances at team wins, states, or even a Senior Night. No chance to be recognized for all they did and still could have done.”
Among the seniors who will not get another shot is the coach’s son Gabe, who went 25-14 last season and was a region tournament qualifier at 145 pounds.
Looking forward, Chris Yiannakis said in the email: “This will be a setback for the program but not a problem. Trojan wrestling doesn’t have problems, just more work to do.”
Taylor said the Return to Play Committee, of which he is a member, met by Zoom at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Committee members include Couch, Kent County High Principal Dale Kevin Brown, Kent County Health Officer William Webb and Joe Wheeler, who oversees transportation as the school system’s supervisor of operations.
The consensus was to push back the start of winter sports to Jan. 4. As that date gets closer, the committee will reconvene, Taylor said.
Taylor said he will make a presentation to the Board of Education at its Dec. 14 meeting.
“One of the things to look at is what the other schools around us are doing. It doesn’t make sense for us to have winter sports if others aren’t,” Taylor said.
Taylor is scheduled to meet with other area athletic directors and supervisors over the next two weeks.
At KCHS, the tentative plan is for indoor track to become an outdoor sport with virtual meets.
Indoor practices for basketball would be limited to 15 students in a pod, which is how the three-week fall and spring practice sessions were conducted.
Boys would play their games on Mondays and Thursdays, and girls would play on Tuesdays and Fridays. Saturday would be left open for makeups.
The basketball schedules have been made but not released, Taylor said. There are no out-of-conference or out-of-division games.
If practice starts Jan 4., games would begin Jan. 24. The final play date for basketball and all winter sports — as mandated by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association — is Feb. 13.
“We’ll play a couple of games and then go to the tournament,” Taylor said. Ultimately, the North division winner will play the South division winner to crown the overall Bayside Conference champion.
There will be no spectators. All coaches and players on the bench and scorekeepers will be required to wear face masks.
The decisions made Tuesday were difficult, Taylor said, “but I think it’s the best move. It’s what’s in the best interest of the kids.”