The Sylva Herald, written by Carey Phillips

Two days after releasing a revised sports calendar for the 2020-21 school year (see story on page 1A), the N.C. High School Athletic Association issued a moratorium on schools scheduling athletic events.

The NCHSAA hopes to have more details on scheduling and other issues by Sept. 4.

At a news conference last week, NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said the proposed dates with sports starting in November “are dependent on COVID-19 conditions improving across North Carolina.”

She added that teams would not necessarily have to play all of their conference opponents as there would be flexibility in the scheduling.

Mountain Six Conference athletic directors met Monday to discuss scheduling issues. Smoky Mountain AD Adam Phillips said schools agreed they would play each other once in football and twice in most other sports even if the state gives a waiver about not having to play all conference opponents.

He said softball games normally set for Fridays will likely be moved to Thursdays to avoid conflicts with football games. Much of softball and football seasons will overlap under the new sports calendar.

As for the calendar, Phillips said, “It’s progress. We’re finally in a position where we can plan for the year. That will relieve a lot of people’s anxieties.”

This week is a dead period, but workouts in various sports will resume next week under the NCHSAA’s skill development provision. Phase II limitations, which include no contact, will remain in place.

The NCHSAA has started giving schools the option of using weight rooms and locker rooms. Phillips said SM athletes will not use weight rooms for now, and only one will be allowed in a locker room at a time.

The new calendar has raised some concerns, including activity bus availability, especially if buses remain at a reduced capacity.

Volleyball season will overlap with the entire portion of preseason basketball practice and the early part of basketball season, which brings questions about those who play both sports as well as practice facilities.

“We are fortunate to have two gyms,” Phillips said. “I think we will be OK, but it’s going to be difficult.”

Still to be determined is whether spectators will be allowed at games and at what capacity.

“Down the road I think the anticipation of the high school athletic association is we will be able to have fans in some capacity,” Phillips said.

“We believe this calendar maximizes the opportunity for students to participate in athletics at some point in the school year regardless of what plan that school is in or how the school system operates,” Tucker said.

She acknowledged there is work to be done on the details, including when playoffs will be held in each sport and how many teams will qualify.

“We are committed to an appropriate balance of safety and participation,” Tucker said. “Consequences of not participating in sports are real and grave.”

She said the calendar was put together in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the NCHSAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

“Our goal has been to return to the athletic fields and courts as soon as possible but as safely as we can,” Tucker said.

“I have great confidence that the governor and (DHHS Secretary) Dr. (Mandy) Cohen will provide us the best available information at the time,” she said.

Tucker said there was the potential to start sports earlier if conditions allowed the state to be opened and all schools on plan A.

On the other hand, she said it would be difficult to play sports if the state doesn’t move to Phase III of Gov. Cooper’s reopening plan. Phase II is in effect through at least Sept. 11.

“I think at some point the governor is going to play a large role in how many people can gather,” Tucker said. “Moving to Phase III is obviously very important. We have no intentions of violating executive orders.”

She said with volleyball being played inside and one of the first sports to return, it is likely limitations will be in place for gym capacity. By the time football begins in late February she hopes limits will be less for outdoor activities.

While athletes will be limited to two contests a week in most sports, Tucker noted that there is no rule keeping anyone from participating in multiple sports per week or even per day.

She added that waivers might be granted allowing three contests per week to make up for weather postponements.

If conditions allow sports to be played under the proposed calendar, Tucker said the plan is for sports to start on time next August for the 2021-22 school year, although there may be some modifications for summer workouts.