NOTE: This story has been updated to say the DIAA will allow a maximum of 12 games in fall sports other than football, and more.
The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association today approved a new schedule for scholastic sports.
Fall sports will start Sept. 28, winter sports Nov. 30 and spring sports March 1.
The DIAA board clarified that while most people associate their rulings with high school sports, the ruling also applies to sports at all schools, including middle schools, and to freshman and junior varsity teams as well as varsity levels. It’s up to local schools to implement their programs.
The board’s change of heart follows Gov. John Carney and the state Division of Public Health issuing new guidelines about fall sports, so it was OK to play, but insisting on safety measures such as football players and wrestlers wearing face coverings during play.
Board members said the schools will have to sort out some issues with transporting teams to games and pressing state officials for more money for athletics program expenses and changes in rules to facilitate things like putting more people on a bus. DIAA executive director Donna Polk said it may be hard to finance season-ending tournaments without a loss when games are only allowed 250 spectators.
Board members also said three schools have already voted to not offer sports, but never identified the schools.
At the end of the 8-hour online meeting, two moms of athletes stayed to thank the board for changing the rules and allowing kids to play.
“I really wish we could have gotten to this decision earlier, but I’m happy we’re here now,” Jenny Teal told the board.
Fall practices will start Sept 28, with football games starting Oct. 16 and soccer, cross country, field hockey and volleyball competitions starting Oct. 19.
There will be seven football games. After a break, the DIAA changed a decision from earlier in the day and voted to allow soccer, cross country, field hockey and volleyball a maximum of 12 games or meets. Final numbers can be set by conferences.
Football will have 25 days of practice times, and the other sports will have three weeks.
Weekend practices are permitted, but DIAA regulations also require at least one day a week of no practices, the board members said.
Winter sports will start with three weeks of practices Nov. 30, with the first games Dec. 21 and the last day of competition Feb. 25.
Spring sports will start with practices March 1 and games starting March 22, with the last day of competition May 15.
There was some angst about having fall and winter sports overlapping by three weeks because it would make practicing and sports trainers appointments more difficult to juggle and still maintain social distancing. Ultimately, the board decided to let local schools work that out.
Help with finances
Board member Ted Laws, from the Colonial School District, asked if there isn’t a way to get some Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to help school districts pay the extra cost associated with COVID-19. He was told that DIAA has asked and been told the money cannot be used on things that were already planned, such as sports seasons.
Laws argued that schools will need help with things like bus transportation. Rules now severely restrict the number of students who can ride on a bus. That’s going to make transporting a team expensive.
If the state won’t help, he said, the board should pressure the Delaware Division of Public Health to change the rules for sports teams. If they wore masks and maybe opened bus windows to allow for a good flow of air, schools should be able to put more athletes on a bus, helping to cut costs when it comes to taking freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams back and forth to games.
Dr. Bradley Bley, a sports medicine specialist in Middletown and a member of the DIAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, asked whether schools could seek sponsors to help provide masks, wipes and sanitizers. Many businesses would, he said, and plenty of parents who want their kids to play would be happy to chip in and maybe even start a community fundraiser.
Bley’s question segued into a discussion about how the board has not yet passed the DIAA budget. It had been on the agenda, but was moved because so many things were going to deal with restarting fall sports.
Polk said she was worried that with restrictions about attendance at games, DIAA could only provide season tournaments at a loss. In addition, she said, DIAA may not be able go ahead with its usual plan to buy five years of trophies at one time, for a cost of $100,000.
One idea might be to livestream tournaments and split revenue, Polk said, but that would depend on whether or not the host schools could support live streaming.
Ultimately, the board decided to address tournaments later. The Division of Public Health has to sign off on any tournament plans before the board does, members said.
Teal told the board that she had two daughters playing volleyball and tennis, and they didn’t care if they had to wear masks. They just want to play, she said.
Their volleyball club had not had a case of COVID-19 in eight weeks, she said.
The board spent some time discussing whether to change rules that allow school coaches to coach elsewhere, because nobody expected fall play. Some pointed out that parents had spent a lot of money putting their kids in clubs and into leagues so the kids could keep playing. In the end, the board decided to let the coaching continue, partly because parents had put out so much money.
Teal said she was one of those parents. She’s spent at least $3,400 during the summer.
“I’m going to have to make a decision on how much they can play and still maintain their grades,” and how physically strenuous that would be, Teal said. “But, honestly, I’m OK with my $800 financial loss because I want them to be able to play for their schools,” she said.
Trina LeClerc also thanked the board.
“I just want to give a shout out to the parents that totally stuck up for their kids,” she said.
So many kids are spending hours in front of screens and their only break is athletics, she said.
“Our girls have proven that they can follow the protocols and roll with the punches,” LeClerc said. “It’s not going to be easy, and the parents, coaches and athletes are going to have to work hard to make it work, but they will because they care, and they want to play and they need to play as we keep moving forward.
“We just need to remember that it’s about our athletes and that’s your purpose.”
She said she would never put athletics above academics, but developing a student’s mental well-being and physical abilities are important, too.