Gov. Larry Hogan and Maryland Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon announced last week high school sports may resume as early as next month.
“Getting our kids back on the playing field and allowing youth sports to resume this fall is critical for the social and mental well-being of our students,” Hogan said during a press conference at the Frederick County Career and Technology Center.
“Now that all all 24 jurisdictions have submitted plans to resume in-person instruction, allowing fall sports to begin next month marks another important step in our road to recovery.”
The spring 2020 high school sports season was cancelled last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In August, the decision was made to postpone the upcoming fall and winter sports seasons.
A plan was developed this month to hold abbreviated winter, fall and spring sports season beginning on Feb. 1, the start of the second semester.
“One of the things we’ve been pushing for, that I have been pushing for, for a while, is the return of fall sports to our schools,” Hogan said. “We’ve already done it with our youth leagues and our boys and girls clubs, and we’re now pushing to try to get some more kids to have some safe sports in the fall.”
Dr. Salmon said all local school systems are free to officially start their fall interscholastic athletic season on Wednesday, Oct. 7.
The decision was reached after discussions with the state Board of Education, the 24 local school system superintendents, the executive director of the MPSSAA, parents and other stakeholders, Dr. Salmon said.
Additional considerations included current health metrics and guidance provided by the state Department of Health.
“The Maryland State Department of Education, and the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, have heard loudly and clearly from members of the school communities across the state that there is a desire for more options as it relates to fall sports,” Dr. Salmon said during today’s press conference.
On June 10, the Department of Education announced opportunities for all local systems to begin bringing back students into classrooms.
Among those opportunities was the ability of high school sports to begin conditioning and training.
“The importance of that decision was to insure our student-athletes were being engaged for their mental health, physical well-being, having social interactions and profiting from the tangible benefits found in athletic participation,” Dr. Salmon said.
“Today I’m announcing all school systems shall, as soon as possible, provide conditioning and training opportunities using the current available options provided by the MPSSAA,” Dr. Salmon said.
On Oct. 7, all school systems can start practices for the fall season to begin playing games on Oct. 27. Golf teams can immediately start playing matches on Oct. 7.
The last play date for the fall will be December 12, and tournaments can be held from Dec. 14-19.
Winter sports may begin practice on December 14, and spring sports may begin practice on March 15.
“We are excited and optimistic the governor has decided to allow us to resume sports,” Patapsco football coach Tyler Clough said. “We’re hopeful in the coming weeks we get more guidance from the county and are back playing soon.”
School systems have the option of not starting on Oct. 7, but may use the three seasons in the second semester plan, “but we encourage systems that have or are continuing to bring students back into schools to consider allowing athletics to resume,” Dr. Salmon said.
Health protocols still must be strictly followed to protect students and staff from COVID-19.
Early indications are that Baltimore County will resume athletics in October.
In an email sent to county staff, Baltimore County Coordinator of Athletics Michael Sye wrote “we are working diligently with our school system and other stakeholders to devise a new plan that will allow us to successfully and safely have our student-athletes return to sports participation.”
Baltimore County already had a plan in place to play all three sports seasons in the second semester beginning on Feb. 1.
“At this time I cannot comment any further as we are trying to meet to discuss this new recommendation,” Sye wrote. County staff will be updated once a plan has been put in place based on Dr. Salmon’s announcement.
During the press conference, Gov. Hogan was asked why the decision was made, in light of the problems encountered by professional leagues playing during the pandemic and the prospect of a “wave two” of the pandemic.
“Our health metrics could not possibly be any better. We peaked in March and April, and we’ve been trending down ever since,” Hogan replied. “For the past week, we’ve had record low positivity, record low number of cases per 100,000.
“We’ve had record lows in every jurisdiction across the state, we’ve done a really good job of keeping the health crisis under control. We don’t want to rush, we don’t want to bring back huge crowds, we don’t want to fill the schools. But we believe there are ways to go about things safely.”
Asked about the timing of the announcement, and if there was enough time to have a fall sports season, Hogan said “Our health metrics have hit record lows every single day of the past week and we’ve been trending downwards for more than three months.
“All 24 jurisdictions have plans to bring kids back into class, so we felt it was time. We’ve been working on this for months, and all our experts felt we were able to move forward.”
Hogan was also asked if he was responding to feedback from citizens.
“I haven’t taken any survey, but I can tell you there have been parents clamoring, protesting outside of my house,” he said. “They’ve showing up on zoom meetings with county boards, really pushing. Parents all want to keep their kids safe, but many of them have really been strongly pushing to get kids who need it the most back in class for face-to-face instruction, and they’ve really been pushing to get some fall sports going.”