Fall sports remain in limbo

  • Highlands goalkeeper Ethan Tate stops a shot during the 2019 soccer season. The Highlanders’ 2020 season is in doubt due to COVID-19.
    Highlands goalkeeper Ethan Tate stops a shot during the 2019 soccer season. The Highlanders’ 2020 season is in doubt due to COVID-19.

The phrase “I don’t know” has become a common answer from area high school athletic directors and coaches to the question, “When are we going to play?” posed by students, parents and fans. 

Now, thanks to an extension of “phase two” of the state’s reopening plan by Gov. Roy Cooper until at least Sept. 11, AD’s can add, “Not for some time,” to their replies. 

The start of sports for the 2020-21 school year will be delayed beyond the original Sept. 1 date for N.C. High School Athletics Association member schools because of concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“The NCHSAA Staff and Board of Directors will review all available options, seek input from SMAC, DPI, a sports Ad Hoc Committee, and announce a calendar for playing sports during the upcoming school year,” said NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker in a written statement. “We want to play sports during this upcoming school year and are making plans to do so; however, the health and safety of all participants, including coaches and other essential staff, will be a priority as decisions and plans are made.”

The NCHSAA gave high schools it’s blessing to move forward into the second stage of its COVID-19 reopening plan on Aug. 1. 

The main addition to the summer workout schedule currently employed by the state’s high schools is the use of a ball in workouts and the allowed use of the training room by athletes. 

Highlands School Athletic Director Brett Lamb said the schools are following the governor’s phases. Safety of the school’s athletes, coaches and families, he said, is the most important factor they look at. 

“With many unknowns about COVID-19 we need to be thorough before we return so we do not have to shut down mid-season,” he said. “With the governor extending phase two for five more weeks, the NCHSAA has to look at where that puts us on the calendar for sports... They are also in the process of gathering data from all the school districts in North Carolina and seeing if the schools who chose to open up under plan C – all remote learning – would allow kids to play sports. That was a determining factor also for the start of fall sports.” 

Lamb said safety was their singular goal in putting summer workouts together. 

“We are taking all precautions and protocols as we do our pre-season workouts and will continue until we get the next decision from the state,” Lamb said. “There is a dead period the first week of school for all teachers, coaches and students to get acclimated to our ‘new’ normal protocols at school without the distraction of sports and practices.” 

Until the state says otherwise, things remain up in the air about the possibility of a fall sports season. 

“I am not sure what date would make the NCHSAA cancel fall sports,” Lamb said. “They have plans in place for many different scenarios and we will trust they will guide us in a safe manner.” 

Highlands Volleyball Coach Desiray Schmitt is ready to start playing games but is worried about the season running out of time. 

“The schedule is still up in the air since things keep getting pushed back,” she said. “I’m just hoping for the best and that we get to have a season even if it is pushed back.”

Senior volleyball player Tessa Wisniewski admits to finding the uncertainty of the fall season disconcerting, but remains optimistic.

“The uncertainty of the season is definitely sad, but I’m keeping my hopes up,” Wisniewski said. “It is my senior season so it is very important to me. I just pray that everything works out and we can just play some games. Workouts right now are keeping me occupied and helping the team.”

Teammate and fellow senior Anne-Marie Moore is also hopeful for a senior season.

“This season is very important to me, and I really hope we will get a chance to play some,” she said. “I know it will all be different due to Covid-19, but I am still looking forward to being back out on the court with these girls for one final season.”