The North Carolina High School Athletic Association recently announced that this past Monday would be the end of the COVID-19 dead period and schools would be allowed to start summer workouts.

Wilkes County Schools, however, have elected to wait just a little bit longer as the high school athletic directors met in a board meeting on June 9 to work on planning for athletics reopening and have set July 6 as the date that it’ll allow athletic activities to resume.

The initial plans are to start with fall sports only, according to the press release sent out by Wilkes County Interim Athletic Director Dr. Joe Bullis. He also stated the school’s gymnasiums will remain closed.

The decision to end the dead period on July 6 came after consultation with the local health director, representatives from Wake Forest Baptist Health Sports Medicine and high school athletic directors.

“As we progress through this timeline, these stipulations may be revised to reflect the current situation in regard to COVID-19,” Bullis said in the release. “We will continue to evaluate this plan as we proceed toward the 2020-2021 school year.  These guidelines address summer workouts only and do not apply to any upcoming sports season; those decisions will be made at a later date.”

Bullis also stated that between now and July 6, they’ll be preparing personnel and facilities to follow the recommended guidelines to ensure the health and well being of student-athletes and coaches.  

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association provided these guidelines but some revisions have been made to accommodate the specific needs of Wilkes County Schools.

One revision falls under exposure if someone tests positive for COVID-19. Should someone be exposed, the head coach must notify the local health department immediately to receive further instructions to help with contact tracing.

“While these revisions are few, we believe they are pertinent to ensure the safety of all participants, including outside agencies, while they are utilizing our facilities,” said Bullis.

In order for a student to participate beginning July 6, the following documents will be required: Physical Examination Form — dated on or after March 1, 2019, an updated medical history on file, an initial screening questionnaire to participate with waiver/release and a daily monitoring form. The last two listed are to be completed by the coach and student-athlete to ensure the safety of all.

Chuck Cannon, Wilkes Central’s athletic director, felt the decision to wait to restart workouts was a smart one, considering the time period from when the NCHSAA announced its decision and its guidelines for restarting and the starting date.

“Better safe than sorry on things. All the rules came out really, really late so it would have been tough to pull everything off in a week,” said Cannon. “We thought it would be better to slow down a little bit and do things right than hurry up and have some mistakes and not have enough time to properly plan everything that we’ve got to do to get this done.

“I think everybody kind of felt that it was a little prudent to just back up a little bit, take a deep breath and do things the right way.”

The original COVID-19 dead period was set to expire on June 1, but the NCHSAA announced the week prior that it would extend the dead period until June 15. Guidelines for restarting sports and activities were announced on June 8.

Justin Call, East Wilkes’ athletic trainer, was also in favor of the later start because it gives everyone ample time to get everything in line so that the schools adhere to the NCHSAA’s guidelines.

“The July date is much better for Wilkes County students. It will allow us to make sure we have everything in place to ensure the safety of our athletes,” said Call. “The better prepared we are on the front end of this, it may mean we can get to action quicker in the fall.”

The NCHSAA is currently in Phase 1 of its three-phase plan to restart athletics. July 6 is the first date of Phase 2 while Phase 3 will be implemented on July 27. No details have been given on what sort of guidelines will be required or relaxed in the next two phases.

When asked the decision behind only restarting workouts for fall sports, West Wilkes Athletic Director Todd Rutz expressed concern with scheduling facilities and having the space to support social distancing with all sports involved.

Another concern was also based on the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wilkes County with more than 500 cases.

“I am glad we made the decision to wait until July 6 because the primary concern is the safety of our athletes and community. It would have been irresponsible for us to begin on June 15 as Wilkes County was hit hard by the virus and is still recovering,” said Rutz. “We would have had a very hard time providing the equipment (thermometers, face masks, hand sanitizer, etc.) as required by the NCHSAA. We also need time to work out the logistics of distancing procedures and workouts as well as train the coaching staff in the NCHSAA requirements.”

Rutz stated that all indoor facilities would be closed, limiting space, and meaning that athletes would be forced to choose one sport each day. The NCHSAA limited the number and duration of the workouts during each day.

Rutz also said that just because schools are beginning workouts, doesn’t guarantee that sports will begin on Aug. 1.

“It makes sense to focus on the sports that resume more quickly. Most of the activity that is allowable with distancing will be conditioning related rather than sport or skill specific,” said Rutz. “Fall sport conditioning is imperative now, winter and spring sports will have more opportunity to condition in the future.

“Lastly, I think it is worth saying that just because we are able to begin workouts it does not mean that fall sports will begin as normal on Aug. 1,” added Rutz. “I am hopeful, but still think there could be delays or cancellations as we move forward.”

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