Updated 7:30 p.m.:
GREENSBORO — The N.C. High School Athletic Association’s decision today 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 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 in the fall.
“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.”