Winter sports cleared to start next week

Caesar Rodney High sophomore Anthony Aglio (left) looks to shoot in basketball practice on Tuesday. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Uncertainty has been just another member of the team for high school athletes playing during a pandemic.

And, after a month of practicing, there was still plenty of doubt for the state’s winter athletes about when or if a season would be played.

But state health officials assured the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association board of directors on Thursday that the winter sports season would indeed be permitted to start next week.

Because of the increased chance of spreading COVID-19 indoors, only one family member per athlete and coach will be allowed to attend events for at least the next two weeks. The competitions, though, will be allowed to start in basketball, wrestling, swimming and indoor track & field.

“I’ve got a niece and nephew (playing winter sports),” said Dr. Bradley Layfield, the DIAA board chairman and Sussex Central High principal. “They would have been kind of bummed had they been practicing for over a month and they had to delay things for one, two or three weeks. All of those options were kind of on the table.”

Layfield said he thinks that the “due diligence” of the coaches following virus protocols in practice helped make DPH’s decision.

Cape Henlopen sophomore wrestler C.J. Fritchman, right, practices with teammate sophomore Luke Bender during the preseason. Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

DIAA executive director Donna Polk said on Thursday that 11 positive cases in six different schools in the state have been reported among winter athletes.

Jamie Mack, an official with the Division of Public Health, told the DIAA board on Thursday that the wording of the governor’s emergency order allowing return to competition was still being finalized. But he said that the draft of the order will allow teams to start playing.

On Tuesday, Gov. John Carney said he was not ready yet to lift the competition ban.

“Indoors settings for contact sports is riskier,” Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, said on Tuesday. “We have some decisions to make around that and we’re not at the point yet of knowing when competition will be allowed yet for winter sports.”

High school teams have been permitted to practice since Nov. 30. The winter season would have normally started in early December but was delayed by the pandemic.

Teams will play a shorter schedule and will be mostly limited to playing teams in their own conference during the regular season.

The other important decision that the DIAA board made on Thursday was establishing the formats for this year’s state tournaments.

Boys’ and girls’ basketball will have an open state tournament, with every team in the state eligible to play in it. Wrestling plans to have an individual state tourney only, with no team event, which will be held at Cape Henlopen High.

Swimming plans on holding a state meet at Sussex Academy in Georgetown while indoor track & field is prepared to hold a state meet outside if no indoor venue is available.

Delaware has previously held an open basketball tourney from 1985-88. The field has been set at 24 teams since then.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Layfield said about the format. “It would be like the NCAA (tournament) here in little old Delaware.

“It gives a team that’s competitive but maybe not ‘playoff bound,’ a chance to get to the ‘Big Dance’ — the Cinderella story. That’s pretty cool.”

Football realignment update

The DIAA also continued discussing a tentative plan restructuring football from two to three divisions in the state.

The state’s superintendents heard a presentation from the state’s athletic directors association on Thursday morning detailing the plan.

DIAA board member Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, the Caesar Rodney School District superintendent, said there are still questions that need to be addressed. But he didn’t think the questions were big enough to stop the move.

The realignment could come up for a vote next month and be in effect for at least the next two seasons.

The change would be an effort to avoid some of the disparities between the top and bottom teams in the state. Officials said that 48 percent of last season’s football games were decided by 24 points or more.

“If we miss the bus and we don’t make a decision before, I would say, early spring, then it’s probably going to be too late because ADs and football coaches are currently working on finding non-conference games,” said Layfield. “Right now, everyone’s kind of antsy knowing how many teams in the state of Delaware typically have to pick up out-of-state teams.”

The realignment would take into account a school’s enrollment but also the success of its football program in recent seasons. For instance, defending two-time Division II state champion Howard would be grouped with the largest schools under the proposal.

Geography would also be a factor in placing teams in districts. Teams could schedule opponents in different classes or districts to fill out a 10-game slate.

Here’s the proposed new alignment for football:

3A: District 2-Caesar Rodney, Cape Henlopen, Dover, Middletown, Smyrna, Sussex Central; District 1-Appoquinimink, Hodgson, Howard, St. Georges, Salesianum, William Penn.

2A: District 3-Delmar, Lake Forest, Milford, Polytech, Red Lion Christian, Sussex Tech, Woodbridge; District 2- Caravel, Christiana, Conrad, Delaware Military, Glasgow, Newark, St. Mark’s; District 1-A.I. DuPont, Archmere, Brandywine, Concord, Delcastle, Mount Pleasant, St. Elizabeth.

1A: District 2-Early College at DSU, First State Military, Indian River, Laurel, Odessa, Seaford; District 1-Wilmington Charter, Dickinson, McKean, St. Andrews, Tatnall, Tower Hill, Wilmington Friends.