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NCHSAA's decision to delay the start of fall practice jeopardizes football and more

GREENSBORO — The N.C. High School Athletic Association’s decision to delay the start of fall sports practices until “at least” Sept. 1 means “we’re as close as we’ve ever been” to not playing high school football this fall, one area coach says.

The COVID-19 pandemic led the association to shut down high school athletics after contests of March 13. Some counties have allowed their high schools to resume workouts since June 15, but Guilford, Forsyth and Rockingham counties have not.

Guilford and Forsyth counties were considering resuming workouts Monday but have not announced a decision. Leigh Hebbard, Guilford County Schools’ athletics director, told WFMY’s Brian Hall in a text tonight that his district’s plans had not changed in the wake of the NCHSAA’s announcement.

The decision Wednesday to push back the start of official practice from the scheduled date of Aug. 1, while not unexpected by area football coaches, got their attention.

“If we’re being honest with ourselves we’re as close as we’ve ever been” to not playing high school football this fall, said Page coach Doug Robertson. “That’s something that is in the back of all of our minds as coaches.”

Robertson and other coaches are concerned that a Sept. 1 start for practices would push back the start of the season even further from its original date of Aug. 21. They also worry about how much time they would have to prepare their players.

“If we start Sept. 1, the Sept. 25 date is probably the earliest we could play,” Robertson said. “I think Sept. 18 is too soon.”

Northern Guilford coach Erik Westberg said his team would need “probably a month to get everything worked out and ironed out. … We’ve been off for so long now. If we’d been practicing over the summer and had spring ball I would say it could be different.”

Westberg is particularly concerned about the “conditioning piece.”

“You have to get everybody acclimated and all those things,” the Nighthawks’ coach said. “My biggest concern when we do go back is the injuries. That’s going to be more prevalent than ever before because the strength training has been taken away and kids haven’t been doing all the injury-prevention stuff. That’s probably about 70 percent of the stuff we do.”

Football is the focus of much of the discussion on fall sports because of the number of participants and because of the revenue it generates for the athletics programs of many high schools.

An abbreviated schedule, which would be necessary with the delayed start of practices, would have a “substantial” financial impact, Glenn athletics director Joe McCormick told the Winston-Salem Journal’s Patrick Ferlise. McCormick estimated the Bobcats would lose three of six games at Marty Stanley Stadium in Kernersville if practices start Sept. 1.

McCormick, based on last season’s gate receipts, hoped Glenn’s home opener against Ledford would gross roughly $13,000 — $3,000 of which would go toward expenses. The Bobcats’ gate from the matchup with Mount Tabor in Week 2 traditionally has ranged from $12,000 to $16,000, and games against programs within Forsyth County split those funds, he said.

“We hold out hope” of playing a football season in the fall, Page’s Robertson said, “but if you go later than Sept. 1 … then you start to say is it really worth it for the number of games you could get in. At that point, a lot of us as football coaches would definitely look at a spring season as a possibility of maybe having a better season.”

Northern Guilford’s Westberg says that a model Virginia is considering that would start athletics in mid-December and play winter sports, fall sports and spring sports in that order deserves strong consideration in North Carolina.

“When I read that today and really looked at it, I thought it was the best model moving forward,” Westberg said. “It’s the most fair for everybody. Football makes most of the money, but those other sports deserve a fair shot, too.”

As Westberg noted, football wasn’t the only fall sport affected by today’s announcement by the NCHSAA. Cross country, field hockey, girls golf, boys soccer, girls tennis and volleyball teams also compete then.

“Us athletes have had these return-to-play dates twice snatched from us, and every athlete from every school is disappointed,” said Luke Swift, a senior soccer player for Southwest Guilford. “If you asked 99 out of 100 athletes at Southwest or any other school they’d tell you they’re disappointed in the decision and would be ready to play a full season.”

Westberg is more realistic than optimistic about playing fall sports in the fall this year.

“My thing is they pushed it back a month,” he said of the start of practice. “Is it going to be another month and another month? … What’s going to change? I wish they would just say fall sports are off the table. Realistically, is it going to happen? I don’t see how until the numbers go down or we have a vaccine.”

Setting the stage: Production company wants High Point land for expansion

HIGH POINT — Just west of the bright green field at Truist Point baseball stadium is an industrial brownfield where a local company wants to build a media empire.

Brittano Group-KNova Film Capital has asked the City Council for a $1.5 million incentive package to begin work on a complex of studios and production offices at 614 W. Green Drive, land that was once a lumberyard and industrial complex.

The brick buildings and vacant lots in the area are part of what the city has designated an “opportunity zone.”

High Point has begun marketing some of the zone’s land around the baseball stadium, where the High Point Rockers play, for a possible hotel, apartments and other businesses.

The year-old stadium in southwest High Point sits practically in the shadow of such landmarks as Market Square and High Point Medical Center.

High Point University President Nido Qubein was the leader of an effort to build the $36 million stadium, which he believes is an economic catalyst for the city.

For years, city officials have thought investment has been slow to come to that part of High Point after traditional industries closed or left town. They’ve been looking for business that can fill in the physical and economic gaps created by the seasonal furniture markets.

Enter Brittano Group, a local company that could help add economic life to the area. The company, which operates a High Point production studio nearby, was founded by Julian Brittano, a former actor, and wife Karie.

Brittano Group hopes to produce video content for streaming services by offering its own productions as well as helping other production companies.

The couple said Wednesday they want to locate their new business in the opportunity zone and hire local minorities so they can learn new job skills through the production work being offered.

“We want to give them the tools to be successful,” Julian Brittano said.

Loren Hill, president of the High Point Economic Development Corp., a city agency, said that the company could spend up to $100 million on development, machinery and equipment for properties in the area and create more than 120 jobs. Hill’s group estimates the project will add $65 million to the city tax base.

In a document presented to City Council, Hill said that the positions will include work in set construction, sound and lighting. He has recommended that council grant “performance-based” incentives, which would be paid in installments when the company reaches certain benchmarks.

Karie Brittano said the company wants to produce shows and movies that tell contemporary stories about minorities.

“We like to collaborate with creators that can have a positive representation of what’s going on in our community,” she said. “We like to provide a voice for our community.”

Company investors are also considering locations in other states, Hill said in the city document.

What you need to know about Guilford County Schools' proposal for resuming classes in August

GREENSBORO — Will the after-school ACES program be open? What about pre-K classes? Can plexiglass be used to protect bus drivers?

Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras laid out a tentative proposal during Tuesday’s virtual Board of Education meeting on how to reopen schools next month with restrictions and precautions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

School leaders spent more than four hours discussing her ideas and presentation.

Here are some questions and answers based on that presentation and conversation with school board members:

Question: Does Contreras want to reopen school buildings for classes?

Answer: Contreras wants to start the year with five weeks of remote learning. During that time, the school board could continue to monitor the wider health situation with the COVID-19 virus in the community.

She hopes to bring back either grades K-8 or K-9 for in-person instruction after those first five weeks, while leaving most high school students to take online courses from home. High school buildings could be used for socially-distanced classrooms for seventh- and eighth-grade students.

Her proposal is tentative at this point, because she is still trying to figure out whether there will be enough staff to cover classes for younger grades on a daily basis.

That’s because of the challenges presented by having to decrease class sizes to have enough space to place desks 6 feet apart, as required by the state. Contreras expects to have a better answer by the board’s meeting on July 28.

Q: Would any high school classes be in person under this scenario?

Yes, she’s proposing a few exceptions: Some high school students who have disabilities, are in the early stages of learning English, are homeless or are living in foster care would attend school daily.

The district is also still trying to figure out what will happen with the Early and Middle College programs, which take place on college campuses, and involve high school students taking college courses, typically following the college’s schedule.

Q: Will there be pre-K classes next year?

A: Yes. However, Contreras said they are discussing whether to shorten the school day for pre-K and kindergarten students, given foreseen challenges of keeping them socially distanced and masked all day.

Q: What about school libraries and school media specialists? What would happen to those under these proposals?

A: Short answer, it depends. Many schools are likely to be short on both teaching space and teachers, if elementary and middle school students return full time. Libraries or any other given room might wind up as classroom space. Plus, administrators said state guidance calls for schools to avoid having multiple children touching the same books, which is counter to how a school library normally works.

Also, with the expected staffing crunch, many specialist teachers could be asked to take on a different role. For example, Chief Academic Officer Whitney Oakley said, school media specialists may serve as support in classrooms. The district may need aides to supervise or work with one set of students for a bit while their teacher is in another room, if the class is split into two smaller classrooms for COVID-19 social distancing requirements.

Still, media specialists will be needed to teach students about media and digital literacy, a subject Oakley said is more critical than ever.

Q: Will the school district run its ACES after school care program this year?

A: Not clear yet, but sounding dubious. ACES as it exists may not be feasible with the social distancing requirements that require students to be 6 feet apart.

Any parent who has paid money toward the coming school year will get a refund if the program does not happen, Oakley said.

Both she and the superintendent stressed they are prioritizing making the core of school work above worrying about add-ons such as ACES, sports, school activities and so forth.

Ideally, they would like to use the ACES staff as classroom aides, however the ACES program and staff are funded by fees from parents, so there’s a financial challenge there to consider.

Q: Can plexiglass be used on buses to protect school bus drivers from the virus?

A: They can’t put plexiglass on the buses because it’s an injury hazard if there’s a wreck, administrators said. However, masks, gloves and face shields will be available to drivers.

Q: Could the district begin school later than Aug. 17?

A: No. While the district’s lawyer said they should be able to start with remote instruction if they want to do so, either online or in-person school must begin on Aug. 17, per state law.

Q: Is the district looking at other options for a back-to-school plan?

A: Yes, Contreras put forward two other options for the board to consider: One is for students to attend school for two consecutive days a week. Students would be split into two groups, with one group attending in person on Mondays and Tuesdays and another group attending on Thursdays and Fridays. Students would therefore receive three days of remote instruction and two days of in-person learning each week. Another is for students to attend classes on alternate weeks. One group would attend a week and learn remotely the next week while another group would do the opposite.

Q: Could the school board do something else entirely?

Yes, board members could come up with their own plan. What they can’t do is get rid of the governor’s mandates for social distancing in school buildings.

An interesting article in today's newspaper