The excitement and tension in the air are palpable. You can smell the sweat and see the determination on the players’ faces as the clock winds down. When the buzzer finally goes off, the fans go crazy, shouting and stomping on the bleachers to celebrate their team’s win. That was last year. This year, everything has changed.
While having virtual classes has brought a new set of challenges to students and teachers alike, sports bring their own unique problems into the equation. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for the return to play call for separate equipment, at least six feet of space between participants, and mandatory masks during play. But how are these possible for high intensity and high proximity sports such as basketball, wrestling, and track- some of the sports expected to return to Atholton this winter?
“We just want to provide the safest environment for everybody and the direction we go under depends on the numbers of our positivity rates, and also under the direction of Dr. Matorano and the MPSSAA,” said Mr. Senisi, the school’s athletics and activities manager.
Plans to reintroduce sports to Maryland public high schools have been in talks dating back to when schools first went completely virtual. The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) released thorough guidelines and a well thought-out plan for the return to play.
In this plan, all sports competitions would take place starting in the second semester. The timeline however, is entirely dependent upon the number of Covid cases in the state. For example, it’s divided into stages. If the state is in stage one (code red), then all school activities will be conducted online, which would mean there would be no sports. If the state was in stage two (code yellow), then some in-person activities would be permitted to start, if in accordance with the governor’s social distancing guidelines. And if the state was in stage three (code green), then in-person activities would be able to fully resume, but schools would have to follow local/state restrictions in place. At the time of publication Howard County was in Stage One, as try-outs were expected to start on December 7 but have since been postponed until January 4, 2021.
The MPSSAA also urged schools to commence pre-season conditioning, to give athletes an adjustment period before starting sports.
At Atholton, it would have started with voluntary conditioning. Mr. Senisi, the school athletics administrator said certain safety measures would be in place such as temperature checks, and a survey that details and signs and symptoms of having Covid. However, due to the spike in Covid cases the voluntary conditioning has since been canceled.
But if sports are to start back full time, what would that look like? Mr. Senisi said that basketball would be inside and look relatively normal, but track and wrestling are still in limbo as to where or if they are taking place. Fans and parents being able to watch these sports is also contingent upon what stage we’re in, in relation to the number of Covid cases in the state.
However, the outlook is grim as many counties, including our sister county Montgomery County, have canceled all sports and all plans to start sports. This includes all travel and AAU sports as well. AHS has also canceled plans to start the voluntary in-season conditioning
While it has been a confusing and turbulent year in all aspects, the return to sports for high school students proves to be as complicated and intricate as the rest. However this shakes out, it seems that at every level there are officials and people committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of our student athletes.