CHAPEL HILL — Volleyball players will not only be covering the court during regular season matches this fall, but now they will also be expected to cover their nose and mouth as well.
As schools across the state of North Carolina will be opening their respective high school volleyball season schedules in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has shared new guidance that requires all players and coaches to wear face coverings at all matches.
“We, including each member of the NCHSAA family, all are excited to again be able to provide competitive learning opportunities for students under the NCHSAA umbrella,” NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said during a statewide media briefing on Monday, Nov. 16. “Covid numbers across the state are still not heading in the right direction. Actually, we want them to be headed downward. With the help of the governor’s health advisors, DHHS, our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) and our NCHSAA Board of Directors, it was implemented last week in a meeting of the board of directors that all individuals participating in volleyball practices and contests are now required to wear masks.”
Tucker also announced that the mask mandate is also in effect for all high school teams who are currently out of season but are participating in skills development training indoors, including drills and other activities.
“Additionally, the board of directors approved for all indoor skill development participants to wear a mask at all times,” Tucker explained. “We believe this is necessary, and it is a safe step to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our programs. Of course, the exception is always for students with medical conditions that prohibit the wearing of a mask during actual play.”
Tucker went on to explain the reasoning behind the association’s decision to mandate face coverings for participants in volleyball.
“Currently, after two weeks of practice, several volleyball teams across the state are in quarantine and will not start their competitive seasons on time due to COVID-19 exposure. With approximately 400 volleyball teams... actively participating across the state at this time, we believe it is our responsibility to do all we can to keep this number as low as possible,” Tucker said. “The mask mandate for all indoor development activities is the most effective way we currently have to mitigate the risk of infection while allowing opportunities for athletic participation to continue.”
Without the use of a mask mandate and belief that a number of current infections are potentially linked to not wearing face coverings, Tucker hinted that completing a full volleyball regular season of competition might not occur without taking this step.
“Would this have happened had we had a mandate in place for wearing a mask? We have no way to know for sure,” Tucker added. “Had we not taken the step to do something, then our ability to be able to play volleyball and complete a season perhaps would not be possible, especially when you think about the fact our metrics in our state are tied to the number of positive cases that continue to increase statewide.”
The association shared that its requirement of face coverings for in-season activities is different from those sports not in season. Currently, only volleyball and cross country are considered by the association as “in season,” meaning that those sports can practice, conduct scrimmages and hold events or games within the association’s modified sports guidance. Swimming and diving can follow suit next week when its season window opens.
Tucker stressed that this differentiation means that all other sports are currently out of season, explaining that such sports may not practice officially until the first day of practice determined by the association’s calendar.
“Out-of-season sports may only conduct skills development sessions which are intended to help individual athletes develop their individual skills in preparation for the beginning of their official practices and season,” Tucker added. “This mask mandate does not involve practicing and playing basketball, which appears to be one of the main focal points. Off-season skills development sessions for individuals taking place indoors will still require the wearing of masks, where activities such as free throw shooting drills, conditioning and footwork drills may occur.”
The first official day for basketball practice on the NCHSAA calendar is December 7, and Tucker also noted that because basketball is currently not in season, no formal practices, 2-on-2, 3-on-3, or organized gatherings outside of individual skills development may take place, and that any violations of the policy would be taken seriously and investigated.
On Nov. 11, the NCHSAA notified its member schools that it would not be making changes to its guidance for indoor and outdoor workouts, despite Governor Roy Cooper reducing the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings. Cooper announced on Tuesday, Nov. 10, that the number permitted at indoor gatherings is reduced from 25 to 10 people, but the NCHSAA schools could still be allowed to have 25 spectators to its volleyball matches. Sports with offseason workouts may have 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.
Tucker concluded her statement with making a recommendation to coaches and parents in helping the association with combating the virus while providing safe competition environments for student athletes.
“Last week, Dr. (Mandy) Cohen mentioned that basketball is a high risk sport... and that puts that season, as well as others, in jeopardy. I am keenly aware, as is our board of directors, that wearing masks while playing basketball, as well as perhaps for other sports, is an issue,” Tucker explained. “Our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee will advise us as we get close to the start date, especially for basketball. We’re simply asking all of our coaches, our out-of-season coaches and athletes across the state to do what I call ‘dial it back’ a bit, at least for a few weeks during skills development, so that we might have a chance to play basketball and all other sports for that matter. We all must do our part. Parents need to do their part as well in supporting these guidelines as well.”
Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott confirmed that face mask requirement would be applied to middle school volleyball in addition to high school.