Frederick County Public Schools pushed back the scheduled start of its winter sports season Wednesday due to key coronavirus metrics being at or near all-time highs.
The winter season, featuring basketball, wrestling swimming and diving and indoor track and field, was scheduled to begin on Jan. 4, but will now begin on Jan. 19 — if the health metrics allow for it to safely happen, per FCPS officials.
The change will shorten the season from six weeks to four, but will not impact the scheduled start of the fall sports season once the winter season concludes on Feb. 13.
Practice for the fall season, which includes football, soccer, volleyball, golf, cross country and field hockey would begin on that same day, with competitions beginning roughly a month later and a six-week season concluding on April 17.
A spring season — baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis, outdoor track and field — will then run from April 17 to June 19.
There will be no regional or state playoffs, as all competitions will take place strictly between county teams and athletes. Even some larger-scale county championship events, like the wrestling, indoor track and field and swimming and diving championships, will not take place since they require too many people to be in one place.
"I just think it's sad, and you feel for the kids," Middletown girls basketball coach Amy Poffenbarger said. "You look around at other states that are doing it and thriving, and you wonder what the difference is between living in Ohio and Maryland."
In March, Poffenbarger's team at Middletown was scheduled to play in a Class 2A state semifinal at Towson University before the event was postponed and eventually canceled due to the pandemic.
"The girls want to prove themselves. They want to show how good we were and how good we are and what we could have been this year," Poffenbarger said. "There's a sense of frustration ... They just want to be given the chance to prove that."
The delay in the winter season was announced as Frederick County reported its highest one-day total of new coronavirus infections (189) Wednesday and related hospitalizations across the state approached their all-time high (1,776).
The positivity rate in Frederick County, which is presently higher than the overall positivity rate in Maryland (7.36 percent), ticked up to 9.09 percent, which is as high as it has been since June 2.
"We have taken a cautious approach to beginning winter sports," said Kevin Kendro, the FCPS supervisor of sports and extra curricular activities who meets weekly with his Return to Play subcommittee and regularly consults with officials from the Frederick County Health Department for guidance.
After the Board of Education approved a plan in early November for FCPS to conduct limited sports seasons, winter sports teams and athletes have been participating in skill-based activities that stop short of a full, traditional practice, even though there are opportunities for small-group, intra-squad scrimmages.
In order to reduce possible transmission of the virus, everyone must wear a mask to participate, and athletes have been working in small groups of three to five people.
FCPS has stayed with these activities, even as other counties and jurisdictions in the state have pulled back and suspended sports activities due to rising virus metrics.
"We put a lot of thought and effort and collaboration directly with the Frederick County Health Department in making these recommendations and decisions," Kendro said.
The plan is to stay with the skill-based activities for now with the hope of resuming more traditional practices on Jan. 11, one week prior to the revised start of the season, Kendro said.
"Something is better than nothing," Poffenbarger said. "Obviously, I am frustrated because I want these kids to have something, and I feel like it kind of keeps getting taken out from underneath our feet. Who knows what is going to happen next? You kind of just try and stay positive and make [the team activities] a mental-health break. Let the girls have something to come to as often as they will let us in here."