DIAA ready to decide on fall sports plan

Country country is just one sport that is hoping to be able to hold competitions this fall season. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — If this were a simple decision, it probably would have been made by now.

But there doesn’t seem to be anything easy about deciding when, what and how to play high school sports in Delaware this fall.

The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association board of directors will try to come up with a plan when they hold a special meeting on Thursday morning. The virtual session is slated to start at 9 a.m.

The meeting comes after Gov. John Carney announced on Tuesday that Delaware schools can open this fall with a hybrid mixture of in-person and on-line learning because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With different school districts already moving back their starting date, there’s really no chance that fall sports will start as originally planned this year. The first day of preseason practice was supposed to be Aug. 17 with the first competitions slated for Sept. 4.

Probably the biggest question is, should any sports even be played this fall?

On Monday, the state of Maryland suspended public school sports for both the upcoming fall and winter seasons.

“We have to come to terms with ‘What do we want to do?’” said Caesar Rodney superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, a long-time DIAA board member. “The governor has done his part. He said schools can reopen in a hybrid model.

“Now what does that mean for athletics? Well, it means that, for those schools where students are returning, they can have athletics.”

On the other hand, it seems clear that any district that believes it’s not safe to have students in school would also not permit them to compete in sports.

If the DIAA does decide to play fall sports, some sports — like cross country, field hockey and boys’ soccer — seem to be easier to play than others. For instance, runners could wear masks at the start of a race when they’re bunched together.

Even in soccer and field hockey, rules could be modified to keep players from getting together in large groups.

Girls’ volleyball faces the problem of competing indoors.

And then there’s football.

The sport that draws the largest crowds of fans is also the most problematic to play in the midst of a pandemic. There’s contact on virtually every play.

One solution could be to just move football to the spring and hope the situation has improved by then. But that would leave football and boys’ lacrosse competing for many of the same players — and boys’ lacrosse already lost a season last spring.

“The big issue before DIAA on Thursday is going to be, ‘OK, what sports are you going to play and what sports aren’t you going to play?’” said Fitzgerald. “I think that if there’s a decision to play fall sports right now, football is definitely off the table. … I think the question that DIAA has to come to terms with is, what does it do with football? That’s what it comes down to.”

Another solution would be to begin the sports season around the start of 2021 and have all three seasons play shortened but equal schedules.

The issue there is that athletes involved in overlapping sports could potentially spread the virus from one group to another.

There are other, more basic issues, like transporting teams on buses while somehow maintaining some kind of social distancing.

Of course, none of the plans will matter if the pandemic isn’t deemed to be under control — and remains under control.

“First and foremost, we’re concerned about safety,” said Fitzgerald. “(But) we don’t want to deny an opportunity to play. We want every kid to have an opportunity to participate on their high school team because we know that it impacts their lives.

“One of the toughest decisions to make last year was not having that state championship in basketball and then canceling the spring sports seasons. We know that those kids lost something that they can never get back. From my perspective, I think the DIAA board owes it to each student-athlete to do our best to allow them the opportunity to play.”

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