Parent group pushes for fall sports to start in September

Mixed messages the only constant during pandemic
August 25, 2020

The Delaware High School Parent Group is a Facebook grouping with 2,700 members. The public group was created for parents and guardians of high school athletes who support having kids go back to playing sports this school year. 

The group has sent letters, emails and photos to Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, Delaware Department of Education and Delaware Division of Public Health, along with emails to Gov. John Carney's office. Their consensus is to allow fall sports to begin on time as originally scheduled. An online petition to support this position garnered 5,000 signatures in just two days.   

Football, a fall sport, and wrestling, a winter sport, have not been addressed by health officials. DIAA and DOE are apparently waiting for guidance before proceeding with a decision, but are not bound by any recommendation.  

The entire scenario is set against the backdrop of games that have been played this summer and scheduled to continue this fall outside school. Athletes are allowed contact with school coaches, and that contact might include workouts on school fields, possibly doing two different sports during the same week.  

Right now, if an outside group sponsors a league or team, a school coach can coach the team. Currently, DE Turf is offering Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday competition at the middle school and high school levels in boys’ soccer, field hockey, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, and seven-on-seven non-contact football. Sports at the Beach will continue to host baseball tournaments. There is a consistency of confusion about informal instruction and practices on school grounds. Each school’s chief school officer – otherwise known as the superintendent – representing a school board may set his or her own policies not to exceed state guidelines.

At this point, scholastic sports seasons are scheduled to start in December with winter sports, including boys’ and girls’ basketball, swimming, indoor track and perhaps wrestling. Fall sports will begin with a shortened season in early spring, followed by the regular lineup of spring sports. 

Many in the parent group cite the mental health concerns resulting from shutting down athletes for months at a time. And then there is the showcase factor for athletes who feel they can play at the college level in their chosen sports but won’t get a chance to demonstrate their talents. 

Inside a small state like Delaware, the DIAA and DOE have to take notice of how contiguous states like Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are handling the fall season. Those states are under their own internal pressure, with Pennsylvania and New Jersey changing positions almost weekly with the interaction of state-governing sports bodies and lawmakers. 

The thread of confusion is like a Tarzan rope that used to hang in gyms. Pick a college conference, and most have shut down their fall sports seasons, but not all. 

Add the actual school experience, from hybrid schedules to total virtual classes, set against athletics, and there doesn’t seem to be any consensus, or any absolutely right decisions.

There’s the outside versus inside argument: Basically, if school buildings are approved for on-site, in-house learning, then why not volleyball and basketball after the school day is over? 

Inside the state of Delaware when Phase 1 began back in March, most citizens played along with “shut down now, come out later.” Young people not only couldn’t get on a field, they couldn’t even get on the beach.

The good news is the relentless drive of young people to leave the house to find and interact with one another, and compete in running and jumping, kicking, whacking, catching and throwing balls while keeping score. 

The athletes are by nature enthusiastic and motivated, and they see sports as an adjunct to their education and socialization. They rely on adults to keep the enthusiasm going and to provide opportunities to play. For many, the shutdown strategy belongs to history. These kids are just going to find each other, so it’s best to help them do it safely.

Late Updates Breaking News  The PIAA board of directors voted 25-5 in favor of a motion to begin fall sports on Monday,August 24. This comes against a backdrop of some individual schools that have cancelled fall sports along with some leagues. 

The NJSIAA (New Jersey) unveiled a plan to move forward with fall and winter sports. Indoor sports such as gymnastics and girls volleyball moved to a new season which will begin with practices on February 16.   

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