Fall sports still a possibility

DIAA board recommends new schedule to start in October
September 9, 2020

The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association board of directors reversed its earlier decision to push fall sports into the winter, and voted for a shortened schedule for this fall.

In its Sept. 10 vote, the board approved a start date for practice for all fall sports on Monday, Sept. 28.

The vote was 12-2 with one recusal and two members who did not vote.

Competition play would start Oct. 19 for all sports except football which would start Oct. 23.

“You're giving the kids the opportunities. Seven games is better than no games,” said board member Ted Laws, referring to the proposed seven-game football season which would end Dec. 5 for regular competition and have a Dec. 19 end date for the state tournament.

All other fall sports would end competition on Nov. 28 with the last day for tournaments on Dec. 12.

The board also voted 17-0 on emergency sports regulations requiring face masks for medium- and high-risk sports competition.

Staggered starts for cross country would increase the space between competitors and limit the need for face masks.

Board member Bradley Bley said more discussion is needed on wrestling because of the difficulties of keeping on a mask while wrestling.

Hand washing and sanitizing are required throughout practice and competitions, and spitting is prohibited under the emergency regulations. Athletes are to bring their own water, and balls and equipment must be sanitized throughout play. The State Board of Education has the final decision on this year’s fall sports season. They are set to meet Thursday, Sept. 17.

Sports rally held in Georgetown

With everything that’s going on in the world, Sussex Central senior Jake Dempsey just wants to play football this fall.

“Getting a football season would take a lot of the negativity in the community away. It would reunite us as a community and we could enjoy life again,” he said during a Sept. 8 rally in support of fall sports held on The Circle in Georgetown.

He urged all the adults to think of how they would feel if they were seniors this year.

“You receive the news that you won’t be getting homecoming, prom, sports season ... you won’t get to walk the halls one last time with your varsity jacket on ... it’s heartbreaking,” he said.

The group of roughly 50 athletes and parents spoke for about 30 minutes, mounting one last effort before the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association board was set to meet Sept. 10 to reconsider its earlier recommendation to postpone fall sports to a shortened season between the winter and spring seasons. The board’s recommendation must be approved by the state board of education, which will meet Thursday, Sept. 17.

The possible about-face comes after Gov. John Carney signed a modification to the state of emergency Sept. 1, providing new guidelines for sports of all risk levels.

Kelly Boettcher, a Caravel Academy mom, started a Facebook group to bring people together to work toward a common goal of reversing the state’s decision on fall sports. She said the group grew from just a few parents to nearly 4,000 members in just a few weeks. They have made phone calls, and sent letters and petitions to state officials urging change. She said she’s praying DIAA board members change their minds. 

“If this doesn’t happen, we’re going to stay on them,” she said. “We’re going to make sure they continue to be pushed. If it doesn’t go well on Thursday, we’re not done.”

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, thanked the group for organizing the rally. He said it will make a difference.

“It just seems like they need a large swelling of support from the public in order to change their minds,” he said. “We can talk to them all day long, but we’re just 62 people at the General Assembly. When you get thousands of people contacting the governor’s office, DIAA and the board of education, that’s when they start to listen.”

Tom Carey, father of a Sussex Academy freshman and senior, said this would be the only chance his kids get to play together on the same field in high school.

“I get what happened in the spring,” he said. “People were unsure of what was happening, but now we kind of know. Whatever form we’re using – online, hybrid, full attendance – these kids should play their sports. They’ve been playing all summer and it’s not been an issue. Nobody’s getting sick.”

His daughter, Erin Carey, said she and her teammates are missing out on a crucial high school experience.

“For some of us, sports are a way of life,” she said. “It’s a way of keeping us out of trouble, keeping us busy and enjoying our childhoods before the real world starts.”

Postponing fall sports, she said, is also taking a mental toll on her and her friends.

“Not allowing us to play sports this year could hinder the dreams and futures of many students,” she said. “It will also negatively affect the mental health of many athletes who live and breathe their sport. This year has been a rough year for everyone, and allowing student-athletes to compete in sports we love the most will start to turn everything around and hopefully end 2020 on a good note.”

Gabi Ziegler, a senior at Delaware Military Academy who plays soccer and field hockey, said she doesn’t understand why the state postponed fall sports in the first place.

“I can go to work. I can go to the mall. I can go to restaurants. I can sit on the beach. I can go to the state fair, yet I can’t go to school or play school sports,” she said. “The logic doesn’t seem to make sense.”

Because she is unable to play for her school, she said, she’s signed up to play for a club team this fall.

“I would prefer to play for my school because it means so much more,” she said. “The rivalries, the competition and the socialization are everything to a high school athlete. My academics are always going to be stronger when my sports are in season, and I know the same is true for many athletes across the state.”

Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, also attended the rally to show support for young athletes. She said the decision to postpone fall sports doesn’t make sense.

“We can have Sports at the Beach and DE Turf with out-of-state teams coming in to play, but yet our own high school teams can’t play,” she said. “There’s something wrong with that picture. We have all learned to be responsible and responsive to health threats.”

She argued that athletes are healthier than anyone else because they eat healthier and exercise regularly.

“We need to embrace that and get them back out on the fields,” she said, noting that being sidelined is also taking its toll on the mental health of young athletes.

Wendy McVicker, a Sussex Central mom who organized the rally, said parents know what’s best for their children.

“What sports teaches kids they will use in everyday life,” she said. “They build brotherhood, sisterhood that will last a lifetime. It’s something that can’t be taught in a classroom.”

Vietnam veteran Horace Pepper said sports programs are where many leaders are born, and he said the world needs more leaders right now.

“Dwight D. Eisenhower played sports. He wasn’t the best, but look what it made him. We won World War II because of him,” he said. “We need leaders in the school. Where are the majority of them? In the sports programs.”

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