By Carey Phillips

High schools could receive guidance any day from the N.C. High School Athletic Association regarding how to proceed with summer workouts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NCHSAA Board of Directors voted unanimously May 25 to extend the dead period until at least June 15.

The Board authorized NCHSAA staff to continue working with its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee in developing a document that will detail plans for a phased approach to allow summer activities/conditioning.

In anticipation of the dead period ending, each athletic staff is encouraged to begin local planning, while acquiring items necessary to help keep all participants safe. Those items include:

Entrance and exit signs, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, disinfectant wipes, disposable masks and gloves, preparing hand washing stations, water stations, water bottles and cones/discs for distancing.

The NCHSAA said the list is not meant to be exhaustive and that listing masks is not intended to mean they will be required.

The guidelines are expected to be released from a week to 10 days prior to the end of the dead period.

“I’m optimistic,” Smoky Mountain Athletic Director Adam Phillips said of having a date for the potential resumption of athletic activities. “Hopefully, it doesn’t change again. I know the coaches and kids and chomping at the bit.”

“These workouts will look different than most summer workouts,” NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said in a news conference May 26.

She said coaches will need time to plan the workouts within recommended guidelines established by Gov. Roy Cooper and other entities.

“It is our goal to do everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our student-athletes, our coaches and the communities that are represented by our schools,” Tucker said.

There has been much discussion as to whether fans will he allowed to attend high schools games, especially football, this fall, and if there are fans if there would be a reduced capacity.

“It would be our goal that the stands be as full as they have been on Friday night,” Tucker said.

If fans aren’t allowed it would impact schools’ athletic budgets as football gate receipts are counted on to fund most other sports.

“It would be serious,” Tucker said of not having fans at football games. “I don’t think there is any question that football is very important for the financial viability of most programs. To not have any fans would be really tough. We’re not at the point yet where we are folding up the tent on football for this fall. We are hopeful that we can at least have some fans.”

She said one of the biggest problems would be how schools would determine which fans could attend if stadiums are limited to 50-percent capacity.

“We would not tell our schools what to do, but we would be at the table as our athletic directors and principals try to figure out how to make that work so you don’t have the communities mad at you,” Tucker said. “We know Friday night football is a big deal in just about every county in the state.”

Tucker said if June 15 arrives and it appears the NCHSAA is ready to move forward, some type of activities will be allowed for all sports.

“The intention is there would be no contact, but there is no reason why there could not be physical conditioning and drills,” she said.

Tucker said there is nothing in the NCHSAA bylaws that would prohibit moving sports seasons, but doing so would be “a last resort.”

The rationale would be moving football, a high contact sport, to the spring when a COVID-19 vaccine might be available, and switch it with a sport like baseball that does not have as much contact.

“We do not think it is wise to talk about moving sports seasons right now,” Tucker said.

She said the hope now is to start practice for fall sports as scheduled Aug. 1. 

She acknowledged that the start date could be postponed until mid August or Sept. 1 if conditions warrant.

“Once we get to September, and if we are just starting, obviously we would be looking at shortening the regular season,” Tucker said. “We might look at fewer teams in the playoffs.”

Tucker said it’s critical that coaches abide by whatever guidelines are established. She said those guidelines could include temperature checks and asking questions about symptoms and possible exposure to the coronavirus.

“If as coaches and athletic directors, we are just simply stating ‘do as I say and not as I do,’ then I think we are talking out of two sides of our mouths,” Tucker said. “I hope our coaches have already started the process of modeling in their family situations. I have great confidence in our coaches, athletic directors and principals that they will lead by examples.”

She said a superintendent could refuse to let a school system participate in athletics while other districts move forward.

“We would like for everybody to be able to start at the same time, but that never happens anyway,” Tucker said.

“If there is another outbreak, we will know more about how to handle it,” she said. “We could have to shut sports and schools down and wait it out.”