RALEIGH – The N.C. High School Athletic Association removed its mask mandate for outdoor prep sports today (Thursday).

The decision, which is effective Friday, came as the NCHSAA’s board of directors concluded its annual spring meeting.

The change aligns with the statewide easing of coronavirus restrictions announced Wednesday by Gov. Roy Cooper and Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Among the changes effective Friday at 5 p.m., masks are no longer required to be worn by youth playing sports outdoors.

NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker clarified Thursday to media that the wearing of masks was still optional and would still be encouraged if athletes are not actively participating and cannot practice social distancing.

Wrestling is the only prep sport currently active and not taking place outdoors. The NCHSAA has ruled that wrestlers don't need to wear masks upon entering the mat for a match. However, wrestlers are required to wear masks at all other times and during practice.

Fans in stands both indoors and outdoors will continue to wear masks, said Tucker, with leverage given to individual school systems to make decisions about local jurisdictions.

Tucker added that the NCHSAA had no plans at this time to establish “vaccine zones” in stands for fully-vaccinated fans to congregate without the wearing of masks or social distancing.

The board also modified its sports manual to follow Centers for Disease Control guidance stating a fully vaccinated student-athlete, coach or athletic staff member who has had direct exposure to COVID-19 does not need to quarantine or test unless they exhibit symptoms.

The NCHSAA also announced that, starting with the 2021-22 school year, it will pay catastrophic insurance premiums for all sanctioned sports and cheerleading. This amounts to more than $500,000 in premiums for members schools.

This comes two weeks after the NCHSAA came under legislative scrutiny for the public disclosure of over $41 million in total assets, more than any other state association in the country, and even the Atlantic Coast Conference, despite significantly lower operating costs.

Tucker said Thursday that the NCHSAA’s $41 million includes about $17 million in “untouchable” endowment funds and about $10-$12 million actually controlled by the board.

The NCHSAA’s board president, Jerry Simmons, said the two-hour hearing before the General Assembly on April 15 played a role in the decision to waive the premiums. “We realized we could be doing more things right,” he said Thursday.

Tucker said in a statement, “In reviewing goals set by previous Boards along with the Association’s financial position and understanding our member schools’ strained resources due to the pandemic, the Board of Directors made the decision to assume the cost of catastrophic insurance premiums as a benefit of membership in the NCHSAA.”

In other decisions, in response to a declining number of junior varsity teams, the NCHSAA will allow up to 10 athletes to use the “eight-quarter rule” for football participation in all four classes.

Currently, 1A and 2A coaches can choose up to 10 players and 3A and 4A coaches may pick up to five players to use that rule, which allows each junior varsity player to play an additional 10 quarters of varsity football during the course of the season.

The NCHSAA will also establish an endowment review committee to work with the board’s finance and personnel committee in directing the association’s endowed investments.

Further, the board affirmed the association’s indefinite suspension of the endowment game concept while revising the NCHSAA’s share of playoff gate receipts in lacrosse, dual team wrestling and dual team tennis.

Finally, the NCHSAA ruled that football teams will not be allowed to wear protective equipment for skill development and workouts during the week of June 28 through July 3. This decision allows licensed athletic trainers and first responders an additional week to recover from the compressed sport season.

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