The Sylva Herald, By Carey Phillips

The N.C. High School Athletic Association has postponed the beginning of fall sports practices from Aug.1 to at least Sept. 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For now, workouts can continue with significant restrictions under Phase I of the NCHSAA’s plan. However, the first five days of the 2020-21 school year (Aug. 17-21) will be designated as a dead period for all sports, with no workouts allowed.

The NCHSAA will continue to operate under Phase I until further notice. The state is under Phase II of Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening plan until at least Aug. 7.

The NCHSAA has not indicated if it would move to its Phase II if Cooper moves the state into Phase III at that time. The NCHSAA has given no indication of what can of activities would be allowed in its Phase II.

“For now, we believe these steps provide hope for our student-athletes, and the possibility for playing fall sports” NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said. “We know that many decisions are being made relative to the reopening plan your school(s) will follow. After each (school district) has had an opportunity to formalize and finalize those reopening plans, the NCHSAA staff will survey the membership to determine how sports should and/or can fit into the various models that will exist across the state.”

Cooper announced last week that state public schools will be allowed to open under Plan B, which includes a combination of in-person and remote learning. School districts can also opt for Plan C, which is entirely remote learning. Jackson County schools are expected to operate under Plan B, although a final decision will not be made until Tuesday.

Tucker indicated that the Sept. 1 start date is not “in cement” and can be delayed further if there is not improved data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services “or some other reason exists for delaying further into September or beyond.”

“We acknowledge that playing certain sports are more problematic at any time without a vaccine,” Tucker said. “However, we remain in consultation with our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee members, and they believe we can and should offer a sports program, with all necessary modifications, delays, etc. In the coming weeks, we will continue working with the SMAC as we plan our next steps for the fall, as well as determining when equipment could be shared (i.e. balls) and/or if we can move into Phase II of the summer workouts/conditioning.”

She said each NCHSAA board member “believes in the value of education-based athletics and is committed to safely offering a fall, winter and spring sports program during this school year.”

“However, there is also a commitment to the health and safety of students and coaches,” Tucker said. “Towards this end, we all will continue to follow the guidance of the Department of Health and Human Services relative to the data and how we all safely move forward.”

Smoky Mountain Athletic Director Adam Phillips said he remains optimistic that fall sports will be played in some form although the number of games may be reduced.

“South Carolina is putting a plan in place to have a seven-game regular (football) season,” Phillips said. “Tennessee and Georgia are moving forward. That puts a little pressure on our state.”

He said any plans about scheduling potential non-conference games are on hold until the NCHSAA releases proposed start and end dates for the season.

“I hope they will release something else soon and give us some ballpark playing dates,” Phillips said.

The regular season was originally scheduled to start Aug. 21 for football and Aug. 17 for other sports. With the start of practice delayed a month, it will likely be at least mid-September before any games can be held.

Meanwhile, Phillips is pleased with off season workouts.

“Workouts are going great,” he said. “Our numbers have been great in every sport.”