DIAA still trying to set a fall sports plan

Players compete in summer league field hockey action at the DE Turf Sports Complex in Frederica last month. Delaware State News file photo

DOVER — It may feel very much like the middle of summer outside.

But the possible start of fall sports — or at least preseason practice for fall sports — is less than a month away.

With the original opening date for preseason camp looming on Aug. 17, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association is holding its July board meeting today.

While the DIAA won’t have the final word on whether high school sports are played this fall in Delaware, it will clearly be a big topic of conversation during today’s virtual meeting.

Trying to play sports while the coronavirus pandemic has yet to be controlled is a complex issue, of course. DIAA chairman Dr. Bradley Layfield said even now it’s difficult to predict exactly what will happen this fall.

“I’d just have to say ‘I don’t know,’” said the Sussex Central High principal. “I’m optimistic we’re going to have sports this year, in some form. Whether that’s delayed or whether that’s modified is the big unknown.

“So will we have fall sports in the fall? ‘I don’t know,’ is the best (answer) I can give. But we’ve got a lot of good minds on the DIAA board and the Department of Education.”

A look around the country shows there’s almost as many answers to the question as there are states.

While some states are proceeding with no major restrictions, others have delayed or canceled their fall schedules. Some are flipping their fall and spring sports with still others proposing playing all three seasons in a condensed form after Christmas.

“It’s complex to me, especially when you have states and neighboring states doing things so vastly different,” said Layfield.

The Henlopen Conference has put together a proposal for a compressed sports schedule. It would feature a delayed start to sports.

One big question is whether student-athletes going to school remotely are eligible for sports. The way the rules are currently written, they have to be “in attendance” at school to compete.

But various districts might end up doing things differently when they return.

“I don’t have an answer to that yet,” said Caesar Rodney superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, a DIAA board member. “I’m going to ask that question (at the board meeting).”

Ultimately, the governor’s office and the state Board of Education will have to sign off on playing sports again before the DIAA approves any competition.

And individual school boards, while they can’t allow more activities than the state, can impose more restrictions on their own sports programs.

Layfield said, if nothing else, the DIAA will have to make a motion at today’s meeting about whether practices will be permitted to start on Aug. 17. Changes would have to approved by the state board.

The DIAA board is slated to meet again on Aug. 13.

“It may seem like a lot of hoops to jump through,” said Layfield. “But that’s the benefit of being in such a small and close-knit state. It’s not a big deal for a number of small working groups to get together — especially when you can do it remotely — get input from everyone and then come to a decision.”

The fact that one-third of the DIAA’s member schools are private and may have different regulations also raises some issues.

“There’s a lot of items to discuss,” said Layfield. “We want to make sure everyone is playing by the same rules and reading from the same sheet of music, so to speak.

“I think ultimately what happens will be dictated on when the governor announces whatever he’s going to announce in August.”

The bottom line, said Fitzgerald, is that no one knows for sure what will happen next with the pandemic. If that could be accurately predicted, the decisions about sports would be much more straight-forward.

He said nobody involved in education wants to see sports canceled if they can be played safely.

“We’d say athletics, band, other extra-curricular activities, those things are all important to the total package,” said Fitzgerald. “That’s what was missing last spring (when sports were canceled). So we’re very reluctant to say we’re not going to have it. That’s what we struggle with.”