State board agrees to postpone fall sports

Coach Dan Candeloro and his Caesar Rodney High football players won’t be starting pre-season practice next week as originally scheduled. Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

There are plenty of good reasons for playing high school sports this fall.

There are just more good reasons for not playing them yet.

That’s what the state Board of Education decided on Friday morning as it voted to allow DIAA’s proposal to begin the high school sports schedule later in the school year.

After debate between the state board and DIAA leaders — as well as hearing comments from athletes’ parents — the board voted, 5-2, to permit the regulation change that will leave traditional fall sports being played perhaps in late winter.

The original plan, before the coronavirus pandemic, had pre-season fall practice beginning on Monday. Competitions then could have begun on Sept. 4.

“The current environment is too unstable for me to put my coaches and students in harm’s way,” board member Audrey Noble of Frankford said before voting to approve the measure.

“I realize this is a hard decision … but I could not live with myself if someone from my school contracted the virus because I thought it was a good idea to play sports.”

Nina Lou Bunting, a former Indian River teacher and board member, was one of the two state board members who voted against the regulation change on Friday.

“I feel that the young people and their parents know better what is best,” said Bunting. “A lot of them have been in their sport or athletics without a problem. I also feel like students are safer out on the field in the open air than they are in the classroom.

“I believe in the science that there are more problems with being shut down with the scare of this virus than other things like suicide.”

A total of 37 states have either delayed or postponed high school fall sports because of the pandemic.

Dover High and the state’s other football programs will now be looking to start playing in late winter of 2021. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DIAA board chairman Bradley Layfield said he and the other board members aren’t happy that school-based sports won’t be played this fall in Delaware. But, given that schools are still trying to figure out how to open safely, the Sussex Central High principal believes it’s the right thing to do.

“I think all of us, if we had our druthers and we weren’t necessarily impacted by the health crisis we have, would like to open up the school doors to all of our kids and start everything back to normal,” said Layfield.

“But, right now, all the school districts are trying to get their mind around what a hybrid or remote start looks like. … Let’s get the education piece right and then we can work on the athletics after that. What the (DIAA) board’s intention was — and what the state board voted on today — was to do just that.”

The Facebook group ‘Delaware HS Parents,’ which had grown to 2,400 members after only being created last weekend, had hoped the state board would not pass the DIAA regulation changes. Its members want the fall sports season to be played in October and November.

“I’m old enough to know how things operate,” said group organizer Kelly Klerlein Boettcher, who has two children who are seniors at Caravel. “It wasn’t a surprise. I would have been surprised if they went in our favor.”

But Boettcher said the group is going to keep fighting to get the traditional fall sports played in the fall months. She said she believes there’s still time to move up the schedule.

Boettcher said the group plans on having parents speak at the next DIAA board meeting in September. According to Boettcher, the group also hopes to start raising money to help athletes play in non-school sports leagues this fall.

“We’re going to talk next week to get an action plan,” she said. “And keeping pressure on them (the DIAA) because, from what it sounded like today, they could easily just say our kids get nothing the entire year.”

Right now, the starting dates for the high school sports seasons aren’t written in stone. And it still remains to be seen how the high-contact sports of football and wrestling can be cleared for competition.

Caesar Rodney High football coach Dan Candeloro said all teams can do now is be ready to play when the time comes.

“It’s just good to know that there’s something down the road that we can shoot for,” he said. “The kids, in their minds, are still saying, ‘We’re going to have a season,’ and that’s a good thing. They didn’t cancel, they just postponed.”