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COVID-19 fears end school sports until April 6 — at least

Senior athletes may miss out on final season

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WAKE FOREST — Spring sports had to slam on the breaks just as they started to get going. 

All North Carolina high school athletic events are postponed as the nation grapples with an outbreak of the new coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease. The delay began last week and is expected to last until at least April 6. 

Affected events are games, practices, skill developments and school-sanctioned workouts.

N.C. High School Athletic Association commissioner Que Tucker announced the postponement March 12. 

“We understand the difficulty facing many programs with altering the spring sports season,” Tucker said during a press conference March 13. “We’re giving everyone the opportunity to cope with these changes along with the uncertainty we’re all dealing with. 

“Making these decisions were not easy. We started wrestling with these questions several weeks ago. It is always our goal to do everything we can to educate our student athletes, while also minimizing the threats that can affect them. 

“The decision was made in the better interest of everyone throughout the state. We hope to return to competition soon. We want everyone to finish their season in a healthy and safe manner. We must do our part.”

Seniors face missing last season

Local high school athletic directors and coaches say they accept the decision, even if there are negative consequences. 

“Obviously we understand the precautions that are being taken to keep everyone safe,” said Mike Joyner, Wake Forest High School athletic director and baseball head coach. “Hopefully, the April 6 date will hold and we can be back playing then or perhaps before. 

“I really hate it for our seniors who have worked so hard to get to this point. However, this is a situation that must run its course and we all just have to hope for the best outcome for everyone involved.”

Joyner said the school does not currently have plans to adjust its sports schedules or reschedule games.

A large portion of last week’s press conference was devoted to discussing playing time for senior student athletes. These players might not have a chance to play their final season with their school if the coronavirus is not contained by the end of the school year.

“We’ve had a lot of disappointment and frustration from multiple high school athletic directors,” Tucker said. “The biggest concern is for the senior student athletes. They have worked hard to get to their final season. Now they are not able to do that. They are not able to finish what they started three years ago. As a former high school coach, I know what it’s like to play that final game of your senior season. Again, this is something very serious and taken out of our hands.”

If the delay to spring sports is extended, Tucker said schools may have to play games in the summer. That includes state playoffs and state championships for spring athletics.

“Playing in the summer is a consideration that will have to be made with our board of directors,” Tucker said. “There will be athletes who will be unable to play in the summer if they graduate. Things will be crowded in the month of June with athletics. It’s not out of the question just yet.”

Games, championships postponed

The announcement affected the high school girls and boys basketball state championships for the 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A divisions. Those state title games were supposed to be played March 14 at N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Tucker said the games will be played after April 6.

“The decision we made to postpone the basketball state championships was not taken lightly, recognizing the gravity of the threat we are all facing,” Tucker said. “We hope to conduct the basketball state championships sometime in the near future. We don’t have any timetable for the basketball state championships. We don’t know if we would be able to play at the college sites. We’re looking for where we could hold the state championships. We don’t know if N.C. State or UNC would allow us to be on their campus to play the basketball state championships. It’s all up in the air right now. We are monitoring everything. There is no drop-off date at this point.”

Since college athletics has also been postponed, that might mean that N.C. State and UNC might not be able to host the basketball state championships by April 6. 

Tucker said the NCHSAA is looking into moving the state title games to other venues and are being prepared for that possibility.

“The first thing we’ll do is reach out to N.C. State and UNC to see if they are available,” Tucker said. “If they are not available, we will be looking at commercial venues, such as the coliseums in Rocky Mount and Greensboro. We have to look at the limitations of what they might have. Basketball can be played any time in the year since it is in indoor sport.”

This decision to postpone athletics made by multiple school officials, including superintendents, principals and athletic directors from all over the state. Tucker said they all came to an agreement that April 6 should be a good time to pick up sports again. 

But the date is not set in stone — especially after this weekend’s announcement that all public schools will be close for at least two weeks. 

“The board of directors, which is made up of superintendents and principals will be regularly monitoring the coronavirus situation,” Tucker said. “We will announce further data as we gather it from the state. We have to start looking at the possibility of not playing any sports games on April 6. We have to take everything into consideration.”

Tucker said she is aware of how fast the coronavirus can spread and is flexible with moving the deadline past April 6 to keep student athletes safe.

“April 6 is not a fixed date,” Tucker said. “It is as fluid as the situation we are dealing with. There will be many contests not played. We’ll work with our conference presidents and see what they’re schedules are like and name a conference champion based on percentages. We had to recognize that games were not played and move forward with that. The whole country is dealing with this.”

Lost income?

Another issue that was brought up in the press conference was schools not receiving some expected income from ticket sales at sporting events. 

Tucker said not having athletic events may actually save schools money — in a way.

“Schools are not making any money because of the cancellations of contests, but at the same time they are not spending money,” Tucker said. “They have to pay for use of officials and other spending to have contests. They are not expending money, while they are also not receiving revenue as well.”

Having the entire state shut down its athletics puts everyone on the same playing field, she said. That way, there is no advantage for one school over the other by the time April 6 comes back around.

“We started with the idea of playing games and leaving those decisions to the individual schools,” Tucker said. “Our board of directors recommended that we shut down all extracurricular activities. They kicked the idea around all day. 

Ultimately, the board decided to impose the same postponements to all schools. 

“That provides equity for everyone across the state, so not one school would play games while another school is forced to sit out,” Joyner said. “We’ll be listening to what the governor is saying. Everyone will be restarting from the same point.”

That also brought up the idea for private schools under the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association. Those schools are not under NCHSAA regulations.

“If there is an independent school that was scheduled to play with one of our public schools, that game will not be played,” Tucker said. “Private schools act on their own authority.”

Tucker ended the press conference on a positive note by saying she hopes schools can start playing before the April 6 date. At this point, the state government has all of the authority on how high school sports will be played from here on out.

“I’m remaining positive and hopeful that this situation will change by April 6,” Tucker said. “We want to move in the positive direction and play spring sports if we can and use the term postpone instead of cancellation.”