By Tim Gardner
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to make changes to their daily lives in order to do their part in flattening the curve.
This is no different for Avery County High School sports teams.
With the recent declaration by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association that high school athletics may resume closely monitored workouts and related activities, Avery County High School student-athletes returned to their respective courts and fields on June 15.
These athletes, like others across the state, are continuing those workouts and conditioning with tightly regimented and restricted guidelines.
That means holding productive sessions while taking every precaution mandated by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, the National Federation of State High School Associations and the North Carolina High School Athletics Association, the latter of which is the governing body of prep sports in the state.
The North Carolina High School Athletics Association (NCHSAA) suspended sports activities at all high schools last March in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, and adopted measures for the re-opening of practices that include social distancing, temperature checks, groups of less than 10 people, frequent sanitization and individual use of certain equipment.
Coaches and training staff are at all Avery High athletic gatherings, whether on the athletic fields or, for sports such as tennis, basketball and volleyball, on the court, Avery County Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman noted.
“To assist with distancing, some of the indoor sports teams split into small groups for drills with intentional spacing, while programs also utilize other gymnasiums in the county to ensure that health and safety guidelines are followed,” Dr. Brigman remarked.
Dr. Brigman said that Avery High and the sports teams of the county’s middle and elementary schools are preparing for 2020 and 2020-21 sports seasons to be held.
Avery County Schools are set to open on August 21 for the 2020-2021 academic year unless changes are made by Governor Cooper, the State Department of Public Instruction, which governs all North Carolina public Schools, and/or the Avery County Board of Education.
Dr. Brigman commented: “Of course, things can change quickly with this pandemic, but we’re anticipating schools starting on schedule and that our sports teams will all play their seasons this upcoming school year. We will follow what the NCHSAA and other agencies in charge mandate in regards to that.”
Despite the limitations because of COVID-19, Avery High coaches continue to make preparations to help get their athletes ready for their respective sports seasons.
Avery High head football coach Mac Bryan noted that the school has worked to ensure that every student and adult participating are strictly following and/or enforcing the state health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These measures include requiring players to provide their own water to required temperature monitoring, having hand-sanitizing stations onsite and thoroughly disinfecting equipment used in conditioning work.
“We are following the guidelines as they are given to us,” Bryan said.
As for Avery Vikings Football, workout days begin as players meet at 8:00 a.m. with health screenings, followed by conditioning and workouts from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m.
The Board of Directors of the North Carolina High School Athletics Association, the governing body of prep sports in the state met via the ZOOM platform June 5, to discuss the latest updates from Governor Cooper and the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, to guide member schools regarding summer activities.
Effective June 15, the NCHSAA lifted the current Dead Period, provided each Local Education Agency (LEA) gives it’s okay and permission to do so. It is to be understood that Superintendents and local Boards of Education control when they will allow activities to resume in athletic facilities and venues.
The NCHSAA staff has been working closely with the NCHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) on recommendations for member schools regarding summer activities that align with NC DHHS directives. The guidance utilizes a phased approach for NCHSAA athletes and is intended to help school administrators, coaches, parents, students and communities navigate a gradual reopening of high school athletic activities.
The health and safety measures outlined in this plan were formed utilizing CDC, DHHS, and NCHSAA information. It is recognized, however, that the information and circumstances concerning COVID-19 remain fluid and variable. Therefore, these guidelines are subject to change in conjunction with new knowledge of COVID-19 or changing social conditions.
Phase One contains a set of General Requirements that apply across all sports, with specific requirements for each sport. Guidance for Phases Two and Three will be distributed in the coming weeks in consultation with state leaders.
In addition to approving these guidelines, the NCHSAA Board of Directors kept in place the June 29 – July 5 Dead Period. However, for this summer only, Board Members approved the elimination of the NCHSAA Dead Period scheduled for the week of the NC Coaches Association Clinic, Monday, July 20 – July 26. Schools and coaches are reminded that, per NCHSAA policy, participation in summer activities must not be required and cannot be a prerequisite for “making” a team.
Dr. Brigman said that despite COVID-19 striking fear in people and so many thousands who have suffered or even died from the COVID-19 disease, he has witnessed first-hand how this pandemic has brought out the best in people when it comes to helping and supporting others.
He compared it to a “team mentality” such is an often-used sports cliché.
“At times people can be so focused on themselves and what they’re doing in their lives, but having everyone go through something together like this Coronavirus pandemic gives a greater perspective on life,” Dr. Brigman declared. “It truly is like sports teams, which consist of various individuals, coaches, trainers, managers and others who work with sports teams all pulling together collectively to form and work together to excel as a team.
It makes people think ‘what is this person going through right now, how can I be more patient, and loving and caring, knowing that they are going through something as traumatic as I am right now’. It’s been good to see how people have come together and have tried to pick other people up and help them in any needed ways during this pandemic.
“It hasn’t been easy dealing with the pandemic as it has turned the world upside down so-to-speak. However, it’s encouraging how people have pulled together and that will be one of the reasons we will all eventually win out over Coronavirus.”