After a months-long drought on high school sports in Forsyth County, athletes can once again occupy fields and facilities beginning next week — a meager step toward a fall season still hanging in the balance.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, in an announcement Monday evening, slated Aug. 3 as the start of limited voluntary workouts for fall sports. The decision comes roughly a week and a half after a unanimous move by the district's principals to indefinitely postpone conditioning, initially set to kick off on July 20, because of rising coronavirus cases within North Carolina and the county.
According to John Sullivan, the athletics director for WS/FCS, the district aimed for a new start date of Aug. 3 — a roughly two-week window for evaluation — when the delay was first enacted. Sullivan said a decision was hashed out this morning via Zoom meeting with the county's high school athletics directors. That was followed by consultation with principals and the district's roughly 20-person "Back to School" Athletics committee.
Among the variables hinging on the decision for the start of conditioning, initially permitted by the N.C. High School Athletic Association beginning June 15 with the lifting of its dead period on limited workouts, were statewide and county COVID-19 cases. North Carolina had 3,246 new cases over the weekend, with 1,621 on Saturday and Sunday's report of 1,625. The downward trend comes after nine daily counts since July 3 of at least 2,000 cases and 12 of at least 1,900.
"We felt like it was time," Sullivan said. "Numbers have stabilized. There's a lot of factors, but this was always our date.
"We feel good about our plan. We feel good about starting on Monday. All of our schools will have some form of conditioning going on — some more than others. But that's always been up to them and to their coaches."
Sullivan said safety protocols for conditioning by WS/FCS — stricter than what guidelines were released June 8 by the NCHSAA for Phase One of its three-part reopening plan — have not been amended since the indefinite postponement occurred. The district's Phase One program, which included only conditioning and heat acclimation, prohibited equipment including balls, tackling dummies and sleds. Workouts are limited to 45 minutes per group of 25 people, in accordance with Gov. Roy Cooper's Phase Two guidelines for a reopening of the state set to expire Aug. 7, on a field or within a stadium.
Sullivan said the start date for workouts gives the district two weeks before a dead period between Aug. 17 to Aug. 23 — the first week of the 2020-21 school year. He was optimistic, as conditioning in surrounding counties like Stokes and Surry have been operating since July 6. Guilford County won't begin limited workouts until "at least" Aug. 3.
Mike Pennington, the athletics director at West Forsyth, noted that hope still lies on a fall sports season already pushed back a month with practices moved to "at least" Sept. 1 from Aug. 1 by the NCHSAA. But Monday's move is a step in the right direction.
"I think it's huge," Pennington said of the chance for players to return to the county's campuses. "I think the conditioning part, I'd say for most sports, your top returning players, they're doing something on their own. But I think the fact that they're going to physically be around their coaches — we'll social distance and all that stuff, get out and paint the lines this week — and around the other players in a formal way, as formal as a preseason workout can be, I think it's an important step."