High school sports in Forsyth County will resume — at least on-site workouts — in a few weeks, following a roughly three-month absence because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools on Friday afternoon announced sports can resume July 6 with limited workouts. That decision falls in line with a vast majority of area school districts across Northwest North Carolina set to lift the dead period on high school sports, initially enacted in mid-March by the NCHSAA in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to John Sullivan, the athletics director for WS/FCS, the county initially aims to take a stricter approach to the NCHSAA's guidelines for Phase One — the first of three steps to a reopening for sports released by the association on Monday. He said those additional safety measures will remain in effect for two weeks after the dead period lifts. Resumption of sports remains at the discretion of each school district despite the NCHSAA allowing June 15 to be the earliest date for lifting the dead period.
Districts in Stokes, Surry and Davidson counties along with Thomasville City Schools have opted to start July 6 as well. Mount Airy City Schools announced it will lift the dead period on June 15.
"We've decided to take baby steps," Sullivan said. "We decided these kids have been deconditioned. They may have been working out. But their type of a workout and our type of a workout, as coaches, is different.
"We just felt like we needed to ease back into this, and bring them back them onto our campuses — the required size groupings. And just assess them and see where they truly are, and then get them acclimated to the heat and then start conditioning them without overdoing it."
Sullivan said Phase One guidelines will not permit equipment, including tackling dummies, sleds and balls. Fall seasonal sports teams — volleyball, girls golf, football, girls soccer, cross country, girls field hockey and girls tennis — will be the only programs permitted to hold workouts as well.
The decision for a July 6 reopening followed a Zoom call with city and county athletics directors from across the state this week. Sullivan, who said Monday that date for lifting the dead period was feasible, presented the guidelines to the school board on Thursday. Those guidelines were pieced together by a roughly 20-member reopening committee within WS/FCS, which included four high school athletics directors — North Forsyth's Sean Vestal, Alexis McCoy of Reagan, Carver's Danny Piggott and Mike Pennington of West Forsyth.
The NCHSAA's Phase One guidelines for all sports offered information on facilities, including cleaning schedules and disinfection of hard surfaces such as chairs, weight room equipment and bathrooms. Workouts are limited to no more than 90 minutes, and gatherings at outside sites can include up to 25 people — no more than 10 in gymnasiums — and workouts will be conducted in "pods" of the same athletes training together daily. WS/FCS is only permitting outdoor practices at this time.
The NCHSAA's plan includes daily screenings for COVID-19 symptoms as well. According to Sullivan, the county has ordered 36 infrared thermometers for its high schools to kick start the reopening. The district is working with Wake Forest Baptist Health to obtain personal protective equipment such as gloves and facemasks to protect coaches during screenings.
Sullivan said he held a training session with the district's athletics directors, coaches and principals on Friday. Another meeting is scheduled next week for assistants, and likely discussions for Phase Two will begin as well.
"We're just trying to err on the side of caution. I think that's the main thing about it," Vestal said. "There's a line that's been going around saying, 'You're getting one shot to do this the right way.' And, you know, we're just trying to be very cautious in what we're doing."