SALISBURY – A vote from the state board of education will allow school systems to begin athletics next month.
Last week, Wicomico County Public Schools (WCPS) announced the Maryland State Board of Education voted to allow school systems to begin the winter interscholastic athletic season on Dec. 7. The announcement comes less than a month after the Wicomico County Board of Education supported a push to begin athletics earlier than the proposed Feb. 1 start date, but later than the Oct. 7 alternative.
“I think the board is aware that the MPSSAA – the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association – originally developed a plan to begin athletics in the second semester with a three-season approach,” Superintendent Donna Hanlin told the board in October. “We were then presented with an opportunity by (State Superintendent) Dr. Salmon and the governor to begin athletics on Oct. 7. We felt strongly that we were not ready logistically or with the timing of our returning students to our classrooms.”
With students engaged in virtual learning for the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, Wicomico’s interscholastic play was not scheduled to begin until Feb. 1, which would include some overlap to give each sports season enough time for a shortened schedule.
But when the state permitted the school systems to begin athletics on Oct. 7, WCPS opted to focus on instruction and the return of students to the classroom as soon and as safely as possible, while exploring other alternatives for a consistent statewide athletics schedule.
To that end, the school board last month agreed to support a compromise backed by nearly all athletic supervisors across the state – to begin athletics on Dec. 7.
“We believe this is doable, so I am asking for the board’s support today to endorse this recommendation by these supervisors of athletics, including our own supervisor of athletics, to encourage Dr. Salmon to consider this compromise to begin athletics on December 7 rather than waiting until February 1,” Hanlin said in October. “Of course all of that is pending health metrics, safety, and so forth.”
With the support of the state board of education, Maryland’s winter sports practices are scheduled to begin Dec. 7, with competitions possibly beginning Jan. 4 and ending Feb. 13. Fall sports are scheduled to begin on Feb. 13, and conclude likely competitions on April 17. Spring sports are scheduled to begin April 17 and finish by June 19.
“With a Dec. 7 start date for winter sports, Wicomico and other Maryland school systems will be able to have three longer sports seasons without overlap,” a statement from WCPS reads.
From Sept. 28 through Oct. 30, Wicomico fall athletes had the opportunity to participate in voluntary in-person conditioning. The same opportunity was offered to spring sport athletes starting Nov. 2. And winter sports practices are scheduled to begin Dec. 7.
High school athletic directors, principals and coaches will communicate with students about the new dates for athletics, according to WCPS. The school system’s Return to Play Plan will be revised to reflect this latest change in the schedule for winter, fall and spring sports.
Like all school system activities, athletic schedules are subject to change if COVID-19 case numbers cause the closure of a school, school system or all Maryland public schools, as occurred last spring.
“We’re pleased that our student-athletes will have this opportunity to compete,” Hanlin said last week, “provided that health conditions allow us to continue as planned.”