Fall sports season is coming… maybe

COLUMBIA – In spite of the spike in COVID-19 cases in South Carolina, the high school fall sports season may soon be under way – emphasis on the word “may.” 

The South Carolina High School League’s Executive Committee voted July 15 in favor of starting practices for all fall sports Aug. 17, with the intention of starting seasons for football, volleyball, girls tennis, girls golf, and cross country on or after Sept. 11.

Specifically for football, the High School League approved at least a 7-game season for all teams, centering around region games and giving schools the option to schedule non-region games once the region slate is completed. A short playoff bracket will follow.

However, that decision is provided that the High School League’s appellate panel deny an appeal from Lexington One School District, which wants to shift the football season to early January and move spring sports, such as baseball, softball, lacrosse and soccer, to the fall.

The appellate panel met Wednesday morning at 11 a.m. The 7-member panel’s decision is final and not subject to appeal.

Once that decision is made, what to do of the fall 2020 sports season may tune in a little clearer. For now, what will happen in terms of sports, game attendance, social distancing accommodations and the like is a large looming cloud on the horizon.

“We haven’t talked about that yet,” Westwood High School Athletic Director Jason Powell said of whether Richland 2 would allow game attendance with or without restrictions. “That’s kind of a changing circumstance. We’ll have a better idea after tomorrow. We’re already doing the football schedule, but if Lexington were to win their appeal, we’ll have to go back and punt for the spring. We’re just kind of in a holding pattern right now. Our coaches and players are anxious to get back, but for now we’re just waiting to see.”
Blythewood Athletic director Barry Mizzell could not be reached for comment, but Powell explained that the big decisions about game attendance and what restrictions should be implemented fall with Richland District 2. While the district has a web page devoted to its Reopening Schools Task Force that was updated with a PowerPoint on the subject, no information on after-school activity attendance was noted.

Spring and summer practices for football and other fall sports were among all school activities that were cancelled when Gov. Henry McMaster ordered all public schools closed March 15 of this year, when the COVID-19 pandemic had just reach South Carolina. When fall athletes do arrive for practice—provided Lexington’s appeal is denied—they will take official practices for the first time in months.

With the daily rate of cases rising to 2,300 on some days and hovering anywhere between 1,400 and 2,000 per day since early July, the idea of practicing in August is daunting to Powell. Knowing the daily case rate, and the governor’s demand for all South Carolina schools to provide 5-day-a-week classroom learning, Powell said he is not certain for right now about what will be on tap for the fall.

“Once we get into early August, we’ll have a better idea of what it (fall sports) is going to look like,” he said. “I don’t see why we’re going to have athletes practicing in August with the rate of infections that we have now, but that’s the reason we’re doing the best we can at keeping athletes and coaches safe. We’re prepared to do that and to make sure everything is safe.”