At St. John’s Catholic Prep, the fall sports athletes have reported regularly for socially distanced offseason workouts, “hoping against hope,” according to athletic director Pete Strickland, that their season would go off as planned.
But just weeks after delaying the start of official fall practices, the two governing bodies for most private school sports in Maryland postponed indefinitely all competition and championships for the season on Thursday in response to the new coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement released on the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland and the Interscholastic Athletic Association websites, the leagues said the decision was made with “safety and well-being of our member-school campus and athletic communities being paramount.”
St. John’s Catholic Prep is the lone Frederick County school that participates in the MIAA (boys) and IAAM (girls), and the postponement affects the Vikings’ cross-country, football, soccer and volleyball teams.
As Strickland reacted to the news over the phone Thursday, he said his volleyball players were working out over his shoulder on St. John’s Frederick campus. There’s a mixed feeling of disappointment and understanding, since he feels like they’ve been doing a responsible job of adhering to protocols despite having one coach test positive for the virus, with subsequent contact tracing.
“The kids have listened. The coaches have done a great job of making sure the kids are staying distanced and wearing their masks when they’re not competing, and our volleyball team is even wearing them when they are competing,” Strickland said.
Strickland said it’s a difficult time because a case can be made both to start the season and to postpone it, just like many other aspects of a world during the health crisis.
On July 17, the MIAA and IAAM voted to push fall practices to Sept. 1, with a target start date for the season set at Sept. 21. Since then, the Maryland Public Schools Secondary Athletic Association postponed fall sports until the end of the first semester in January 2021.
“The MIAA and IAAM have researched numerous options to develop policies and protocols that would support a safe return to play progression this fall prior to making this decision,” the leagues’ statement said. “Ultimately, the persistence of the virus and the potential for exposure among student-athletes, coaches, administrators, support staff, fans and local communities, coupled with the need to safely reopen campuses this fall, made it impossible to execute a return to competition at this time without undue risk.”
No decisions have been made about how the entire sports calendar will play out if activities are able to resume in either realm, private or public. But the MIAA and IAAM Board of Governors will meet in mid-October to re-evaluate the situation and discuss options.
“The MIAA and IAAM Board of Governors will reconvene in mid-October to evaluate the public health crisis and manage competitive options for the remainder of the 2020/2021 school year,” the statement said.
Best-case scenario, Strickland suspects a model will be developed in which each sports season — fall, winter, spring — would have approximately a two-month regular-season play period, starting after the new year.
“I certainly understand the postponement,” he said. “It’s really a postponement and a delay. You can never guarantee anything, but I fully expect we’ll have all our sports this year — it’s just a matter of when.”
The MIAA and IAAM said each school could determine if it would continue “strength and conditioning and sport-specific opportunities,” for its fall programs, but scrimmages and competitions are prohibited. Thursday marked St. John’s final day of offseason conditioning, which lasted four weeks.
Strickland added that he expects the Vikings’ fall teams to hold two workouts per week once school resumes. St. John’s is reopening with a hybrid model where kids spend some time at school and some time learning virtually each week.
“We’ve met all the challenges [of holding workouts during the pandemic],” he said, “but we want to put the cap on the bottle until we start school, so we don’t jeopardize school.”