Two months ago, Dr. Randall Culpepper admitted there was no way he would have signed off on kids playing high school sports.

But, as more has been learned about the novel coronavirus and how to effectively respond to it, Culpepper's thinking on the subject has evolved.

And, late Wednesday afternoon, the deputy health officer for Frederick County sat before the county's Board of Education and argued that, yes, kids need and should be allowed to play high school sports.

"We have all evolved in our understanding and acceptance of risks," Culpepper told the board.

With the guidance of Culpepper and a comprehensive plan put forth by Frederick County Public Schools' Return to Play Committee, the Board of Education voted 4-2, with one abstention, to approve a recommendation to begin a sports season for public high schools on Dec. 7.

Board President Brad Young voted in favor of the recommendation, along with board members Jay Mason, Michael Bunitsky and Karen Yoho. Student member Mia Martinez, whose vote is not counted, also gave support.

Their colleagues who voted against the recommendation were Rae Gallagher and Liz Barrett, while Lois Jarman abstained.

"You can't have a blocker and a hitter in volleyball who are six feet apart," Barrett said. "You can't have wrestlers that are six feet apart."

Unless all athletes were required to wear masks while competing, Barrett suggested the spread of tiny droplets that could potentially transmit the virus was inevitable.

"That's just how these [sports] go," she said.

Culpepper pointed out there is no evidence yet of widespread transmission in sports or a school system.

"It's a risk, but I think it's an important risk," Culpepper said. He later added, "I'd like to see us start [the sports season], and I'd like to see how the process works and evaluate it carefully every week."

Under the current plan from the Return to Play committee, Culpepper will be among the doctors that huddle weekly with FCPS supervisor of athletics and extracurricular activities Kevin Kendro and director of school management Daniel Lippy to discuss the latest key metrics regarding the coronavirus.

The group will then make recommendations to FCPS Superintendent Terry Alban, who will make decisions on whether the sports seasons can or cannot proceed.

If the key metrics with the virus are deemed to be unacceptable, any FCPS sports season can be paused, postponed or shut down at any time.

Washington County Public Schools announced Tuesday that it was pressing pause on its ongoing fall sports season for at least three weeks, beginning Monday, due to recent spikes with COVID-19 metrics.

Washington County was one of three Maryland counties, along with Garrett and Allegany, that began playing sports in October after Gov. Larry Hogan and State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon cleared the way.

A number of private schools around the state, including St. John's Catholic Prep in Buckeystown, have also been playing fall sports.

"The health and safety of everyone, that has been our focus [on the Return to Play Committee]," Kendro said. "That has led us to this point."

The current plan calls for roughly a month's worth of practices for winter sports — basketball, wrestling, indoor track and field and swimming and diving — to begin on Dec. 7. Competitions would then begin on Jan. 4 and the season would conclude on Feb. 13.

The winter season would be followed by a fall sports season, which includes football, soccer, volleyball, golf, cross country and field hockey. Practices would begin on Feb. 13 and, roughly a month later, competitions would begin. The season would conclude on April 17.

The spring season — baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis, outdoor track and field —will then run from April 17 to June 19.

During the last school year, the fall season was completed, and the winter season was down to its final state-championship weekend that included three Frederick County basketball teams (Middletown and Frederick girls and the Oakdale boys) before the pandemic shut everything down. The spring season never happened.

If the upcoming seasons have to be adjusted due to the virus, Board President Young was among those to suggest that the fall and winter seasons be altered before the spring season since spring athletes did not get an opportunity to compete during the last school year.

Kendro warned that all of the upcoming sports seasons will look and feel much different than usual.

For starters, all competitions will take place strictly between Frederick County schools. There will be no games or competitions against schools from other counties.

If spectators are permitted at events, there will be a strict limit. The Return-to-Play Committee plan currently calls for senior athletes on home teams to be allotted two tickets.

Per governor's order, capacity at indoor venues can not presently exceed 100 people, and that includes all of the coaches, athletes and necessary event personnel.

In order to reduce the size of gatherings, games and competitions will only include no more than two schools. There will be no large-scale competitions, such as the county wrestling, swimming or track-and-field championships.

Indoor track and field meets are scheduled to be held outdoors since no facilities are presently available for use, Kendro said.

It's unclear but probably unlikely the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association conducts any state-championship events.

The MPSSAA's initial plan was to begin a five-week winter sports season on Feb. 1, followed by fall and spring seasons of the same length. There would have been some overlap between the seasons.

But then the Maryland State Board of Education voted Oct. 27 to move up the start date to Dec. 7 and eliminate the overlap between the seasons.

FCPS has been conducting voluntary, non-contact conditioning and skills-based workouts over the course of the last four months, and no major incidents have been reported.

"We are going to do everything we can to make the seasons as safe and successful as possible," Kendro said. "But we are going to need the help and support of the community. We need people to make good decisions at home."

Follow Greg Swatek on Twitter: @greg_swatek

(7) comments

DickD

It isn't the smartest thing to start sports. Probably, due to a lot of pressure from parents.

Dwasserba

"A number of private schools around the state, including St. John's Catholic Prep in Buckeystown, have also been playing fall sports." This bothers people who want sports but balk at tuition.

threecents

Does it make sense to expose people right before a vaccine is available and when the pandemic is on an upswing? Just let us know the thought process.

threecents

What exactly changed Dr. Randall Culpepper's mind? The number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are going way up now in Maryland and elsewhere, and there is little doubt that Thanksgiving and Christmas will make them worse, so this seems like bad timing and sends signals to everyone that they can let their guards down just when Governor Hogan increased restrictions and warned us about "Covid Fatigue".

KellyAlzan

This is foolish and irresponsible. Do these school bored committee not watch the news? Covid is blowing up in record numbers. Unbelievable.

Greg F

Beyond reckless stupidity into practically criminal negligence...gross incompetence at its finest. Recall the board!

jbbmdonald

There is no way this will happen. Covid numbers will continue to climb. It’s pie in the sky.

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