DUNN — With the latest North Carolina High School Athletic Association “dead period” in the rearview, some districts around the state have deemed it safe enough to return to organized activities for the first time since March. Local authorities from Harnett, Sampson and Johnston counties haven’t budged on their stance to keep athletes away from campus and will hold off on workouts for at least another week or two.
Harnett County Schools Superintendent Dr. Aaron Flemming hasn’t been able to pinpoint a possible return date over the past couple of weeks since the NCHSAA “Reopening of Sports/Activities Summer Guidelines” were released in the beginning of June. As of Wednesday, Flemming didn’t share a specific timetable, but acknowledged conditions are not yet safe enough to allow athletes to participate in group activities.
“We’ve delayed it further into July as have other conference teams and surrounding counties,” Flemming said in a recent phone interview with The Daily Record. “There is so much up in the air and we’re having to go day by day with this.”
James Lewis, county AD for Sampson County, pointed to the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as the reason SCS high school athletics will be shut out for another two weeks with July 20 as the earliest possible date of return.
“They’re (COVID-19 metrics) not any better than they were a month ago,” said Lewis. “With the restrictions placed on the coaches and the athletes we just think the reward is not worth risk right now.”
Sampson County has been one of the surging areas for the highly-contagious virus, reporting over 1,000 cases since March and currently tracking a rate of 168 cases per 10,000 residents.
Lewis says ADs from Cumberland, Duplin, and Johnston counties, who have all decided to push back their restart date, helped with the process. He and newly introduced interim superintendent, Dr. Stewart Hobbs, joined all the high school ADs from the county to finalize the decision.
“I’m concerned for our coaches...One little mistake, we have a COVID outbreak and they could have some serious consequences,” said Lewis. “We didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on them.”
He added that when the schools are allowed to return to activities, a decision on whether to practice is left to each coach, leaving the opportunity for sports teams from fall, winter and spring to participate.
JCPS reversed an initial plan to allow a reopen on July 6 and followed the trend of its surrounding districts, pushing back the start date to “at least” July 20, according to a statement released on its Facebook page.
“After careful review of the current trends regarding COVID-19, Johnston County Public Schools will delay voluntary workouts for high school fall sports athletic teams until at least July 20,” read the statement.
“A decision to resume optional workouts will be made as soon as possible, pending an announcement from Governor Cooper regarding Phase 3.
We will continue to follow the guidance of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Johnston County Health Department. Thank you for your patience as we work to safely resume our athletic activities.”
The county’s winter and spring workouts, as well as all middle school sports workouts, will not be allowed to start yet.
According to the NCHSAA guidelines, any team allowed to participate will have to conduct daily screenings of coaches and athletes, which include an asymptomatic questionnaire and a touchless temperature check. Harnett, Sampson and Johnston county teams have not held organized activities since spring sports were canceled on March 16.
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2040.