However large or small the decision, laid out Tuesday by the N.C. High School Athletic Association, it was a good sign according to Mitch Adams. The athletics director at South Stokes called it a "step in the right direction" toward what could be the kickoff of a fall sports season in early September.
The NCHSAA announced guidelines for Phase Two — the second step of its three-part reopening plan, after the dead period on high school sports was lifted June 15 — of limited voluntary summer workouts during the coronavirus pandemic. The new framework, which was voted on by the association's board of directors last Thursday, provides amended instruction on the utilization of equipment among other mandates, and will take effect on Aug. 3.
The next step for smaller school districts across the Northwest, which began limited workouts in mid-June and early July, will be a decision on whether to go into the next phase — and signs point toward progress. The NCHSAA recommended in Tuesday's announcement that high schools consult with respective districts about local rules and regulations.
But Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, which includes about 55,000 K-12 students, will stick to its Phase One reopening plan with conditioning scheduled to begin Aug. 3 — a date announced on Monday night — according to district athletics director John Sullivan. Meanwhile, Guilford County Schools, the third-largest system in North Carolina, remains in a holding pattern with workouts not scheduled to begin until "at least" Aug. 3, although developments are expected this week.
Counties such as Stokes, Surry and Wilkes — districts with three to four high schools competing in Class 1-A and 2-A — have conducted conditioning since July 6. Mount Airy City Schools opted to begin limited workouts on June 15, following the NCHSAA's release of its safety guidelines of a week earlier. Davie County Schools began on June 22.
"For us, they've been good," Adams said of conditioning at South Stokes. "We haven't had to turn anybody away. Our coaches have done a good job of social distancing, and following the guidelines.
"You know, the kids have been positive. We've had good numbers."
Among the adjustments in guidelines from Phase One to Two, sharing of equipment — including balls, sleds, tackling dummies and mats — is permissible within small "pod" groups of up to 25 people. Equipment must be disinfected after each group session, as opposed to strictly individual use in the NCHSAA's initial phase. Wearing of protective equipment remains prohibited as well.
The NCHSAA said programs must further develop strategies to prevent gatherings at the entrances and exits of facilities — staggering start and finish times and one-way signage to direct the flow of traffic included. Districts such as Wilkes County Schools retrofitted their safety guidelines for limited workouts to incorporate the closure of indoor facilities, which will remain in effect until Gov. Roy Cooper institutes the final phase of the state's reopening framework. Phase Two, pending an extension, is scheduled to expire on Aug. 7.
According to Joe Bullis, the system's interim athletics director, schools plan to introduce Phase Two. Tracey Lewis, the communications director for Surry County Schools, said Superintendent Travis Reeves was in a discussion that included principals and athletics directors on Tuesday about the move, though a decision has yet to be made.
Davie County athletics director Mike Absher said he felt confident in a move forward for his high school — a similar response shared by Angela Mayfield, his counterpart at Mount Airy. Bryan Taylor, the assistant superintendent for Stokes County Schools, said a meeting with athletics directors and principals will be scheduled this week to discuss the NCHSAA's guidelines.
"I think, ultimately, we're like everyone else," Taylor said. "We want to get student-athletes back involved in as normal of activities as we possibly can. But, at the same time, their safety and well-being is our No. 1 priority as well."
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