NCHSAA Commissioner addresses immediate future of high school athletics
CHAPEL HILL – Are you ready for some high school football?
The answer to that question remains too complex as North Carolina remains in the grips of COVID-19, a virus that grows in greater numbers every day across the state.
Que Tucker, Commissioner of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA), addressed the impact COVID-19 is having on a decision to possibly reopen public schools across the state. Thusly, the immediate future of high school athletics hangs in the balance.
Governor Roy Cooper had planned to announce a decision on July 1 about what direction the state would take in opening schools next month. However, he chose to delay that decision.
“Everyone is asking if fall sports will start on time,” Tucker stated at the outset of the 60-plus minute session with media outlets statewide on Wednesday afternoon. “In particular, will the Friday night [football] lights be on across our state? If so, will it be in August or September. We cannot give you that answer at this time.”
Tucker did say that the NCHSAA does believe that if it’s unsafe for students to be in the classroom, then it the same would hold true at athletic venues.
“Our Board of Directors along with our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee felt that conditions in our state warranted an opportunity for our schools to make a decision at the local level about whether or not it was safe for students to return to conditioning activities with the safety protocols and guidelines we put in place on June 8,” Tucker said. “We applaud our member schools for operating in what they believe to be the best interest of their students and their communities as it relates to their health and safety.”
As Aug. 1 draws near, a date that marks the official opening of tryouts and practice sessions for the fall sports season, Tucker said all the stakeholders tied to that annual event – players, coaches, parents and the community – are anxiously waiting for a decision to be made about the upcoming school year.
“While we do not know that answer as of yet, we promise to do our best to give our student-athletes an opportunity to get on the field and play the games that they enjoy and love,” she stressed. “Our staff is working to craft new and innovative ways to accommodate schedule changes and make tweaks that may be necessary to offer competitive opportunities in this current climate.
“But until we know the plan for how schools will reopen, we will continue to work behind the scenes to determine the best path forward for the numerous circumstances and challenges that will continue to face our state in the coming months,” Tucker continued. “We will seek input from our 421 member schools as to what plans we believe to be in the best interest of the schools.
“We want our students back in the classroom, which also means they will be on the field and on the court,” she added. “We want to offer as much as a season as is safe and feasible for each of our sports and our teams. But we must allow the Governor to govern; we must allow the Department of Health and Human Services, and the local school officials across the state the opportunity to make the necessary decisions that they believe are in the best interest of the safety of our students and our educators.”
Later in the press briefing, Tucker said if there’s an understanding later in August that the NCHSAA can move forward with higher risk sports, like football and soccer, how would the health and safety guidelines be put in place.
“If we get the go-ahead, say on Oct. 1, it would be incumbent on our part to put something together so the student athletes can play, even if it’s just for a month or two,” she said.
She also addressed a question from the media about the possibility of “swapping athletic seasons” – namely moving football to the spring months.
“Can football even be played at all, especially if there’s a spike in the virus cases; and what would happen to the natural spring sports,” Tucker said in a quizzical tone. “I will say that whatever our Board of Directors agree to put in place, whatever proposal they approve, it has to be good for all 421 member schools.”