State opens door for football’s return

Dover High coach Rudy Simonetti thinks Tuesday’s announcement is a step in the right direction for football to be played. Delaware State News file photo

DOVER — Gov. John Carney said there was a time when he was skeptical that football could be played wearing a mask.

But the former high school and college quarterback said he’s been told that it’s not really out of the question.

And on Tuesday, the governor and state health officials opened the door for football — and other high-contact sports — to be played again, maybe sooner rather than later.

Under new guidelines announced on Tuesday, those sports would have to be played with players wearing face coverings. At least, though, the announcement brought some hope to the Delaware high school football world, which has mostly been told that tackle football couldn’t be played during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s encouraging news, obviously,” said Dover High coach Rudy Simonetti. “We’re headed in the right direction. I think it’s important to just let the process play out and whatever happens, happens. I can tell you this, there will be a football season this year, it’s just a question of when.”

“It’s kind of hard to second guess the decision that was made recently,” Smyrna coach Mike Judy said about the DIAA’s move to delay the start of fall sports. “I’m not going to do that, for sure, because it’s such a sticky situation for everybody involved.

“But I’m glad that they’re examining things. That’s great. It’s like reviewing before submitting the final paper. I’m very hopeful that it will lead us down the right path, not just for our kids, but maybe it leads to bigger and better things.”

Before the pandemic, the fall sports season in Delaware would have started this coming weekend.

Under the current plan set out by the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, sports wouldn’t start until December. The traditional fall sports season wouldn’t be played until late winter and early spring.

The DIAA’s next board of directors’ meeting is slated for Sept. 10.

With most public schools opening the year without students in the building, there are still more obstacles to be cleared if sports are going to be played this fall.

Smyrna High coach Mike Judy knows there’s still a lot of work to be done before football can return. Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

There are still transportation issues with limited bus capacity as well as locker rooms not permitted to be used, among other things.

Carney said the decision about when to resume sports is still up to the DIAA. But, considering the new regulations, he thinks they should talk about the situation some more.

“My guess is that they’ll take another look at it,” said Carney. “I would encourage them to take another look at it with the new guidance.

“Each of the sports has to abide by the guidance — which is essentially wearing a face covering — and to figure out how you handle the off-the-field activities with spectators coming and going and facilities. There’s a lot that goes into it.”

Clearly many logistics would still have to be worked out. But, for football, Tuesday’s announcement was a start.

“I look at it as big progress,” said Judy. “I’m not so much looking for the ‘golden apple’ right after this but just being critical of it is as important as any decision that they’ve made.”

Youth sports issues

Carney and his aides also talked about issues they’ve seen with youth sports, which have been played since June.

“Some of that activity was done very safely and consistently within the guidance and the rules,” said Carney. “And some of it, not so much.”

He said the biggest issue is with spectators as well as some coaches and other officials who aren’t abiding by protocols. Those include things like coaches not wearing masks when they’re talking to players or players gathered together in dugouts without masks.

Officials said that venues hosting tournaments and other events will have to submit plans to the state for approval. They also said venue operators and other sports organizers were going to be held accountable if guidelines aren’t followed.

“The main thing is to encourage all coaches, athletes, parents, referees — everybody involved in the event — to take the guidance and the guidelines seriously,” said Carney, “And the most important thing is to wear a mask.”