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Delaware high school sports to begin in December after DIAA board approves condensed-season model

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Jeremiah Moore of Saint Mark's eludes Red Wolves defender Justin Charlton. Moore scored three touchdowns. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

High school sports will not begin until December under a proposal adopted by the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association at a special meeting Aug. 6. The vote to go with a condensed-season model was 15 in favor with one abstention. The decision was prompted by the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.

The DIAA board of directors needed to make a decision since practices for fall sports were scheduled to begin Aug. 17. The board will accept feedback from member schools over the next month before finalizing dates and other details at its September meeting. All DIAA decisions are subject to state Board of Education approval.

The board also voted to allow schools using a hybrid model of education, with a mix of in-person and at-home instruction, to participate in athletic practices, competition and tournaments. Previously, the DIAA regulations prohibited those activities unless schools were open with full attendance by students.

Winter sports will begin in mid-December, with competition to start in early January and going for about six weeks, followed by a tournament. Fall sports will then be held, going through the end of April, when spring sports will begin. The spring season will run through late June.

There is still some uncertainty surrounding two sports: football and wrestling. Current guidance from the state Division of Public Health does not allow those sports to be played. By moving football to next winter and early spring, there is a better chance that it will be allowed. Dana Carr, a liaison with the state Division of Public Health, said the state could revisit those sports in about six weeks.

The board meeting began with the state’s athletic directors proposing a delayed start to the fall schedule, but Salesianum School athletic director emeritus Mike Hart emphasized that it was just a starting point.

“We needed to get a starting point somewhere,” Hart said.

One of the reasons the athletic directors suggested playing in the fall had to do with the mental well-being of the student-athletes, said Jeremy Jeanne, the AD at Delaware Military Academy. He also cited several medical studies that suggest that transmission of the coronavirus by younger people is relatively low.

Under any plan, gymnasiums and other indoor facilities will need to submit a return-to-play plan to the state Division of Public Health so that they may be inspected to ensure they meet health and safety guidelines.

“It’s going to look different at every school,” Carr said.

There was some concern about a condensed model. Dr. Bradley Bley, the medical representative on the DIAA board, mentioned multi-sport athletes going from one to another, possibly cross-contaminating a facility. Having athletes potentially in action from mid-December until late June without a break was another. Weather and field conditions came up, particularly for the fall sports that would begin in mid-February. The schedule would also leave little wiggle room with respect to makeup dates.

Another concern is the possibility that some athletes and coaches will choose to play for their club teams rather than their high schools.

One public commenter, Trina LeClerc, said she favored a September start because the mental health of the student-athletes is deteriorating. She also said the chances of having athletics in three months will not be any better than they are now.

Another asked if any consideration had been given to requiring athletes be tested for coronavirus before participating. No answer was given to any of the public comments, several of who advocated for a delayed fall start.