Tucker media briefing

NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker field questions from state media during a media briefing via videoconference on July 8.

CHAPEL HILL — The leader of the state’s high school athletics association said July 8 that any decisions on fall sports schedules and restrictions are contingent on the governor’s school reopening plans, but that the association is prepared to be as flexible as possible to allow for sports to be played.

North Carolina High School Athletic Association Commissioner Que Tucker held a media conference call on July 8 to field questions, but no major announcements were made.

“We’re still working to craft new and innovative ways to make tweaks in order to offer competitive opportunities in this climate,” Tucker stated. “We have staff plans and we have coaches plans, as well as plans from other state associations. Until we know the plan for how schools will reopen, we will continue to work behind the scenes with groups including our board of directors, sports medicine advisory committee, and so forth to determine the best path forward for numerous circumstances and challenges that face us in the coming months.”

Gov. Roy Cooper announced on July 14 that schools would reopen for in-person instruction this fall under the “Plan B” scenario introduced in early June, which outlines stringent social distancing and sanitizing requirements. However, he said, school districts could choose Plan C, which is remote learning only, and schools are encouraged to allow families to opt in to all-remote learning.

On July 8, Tucker had expressed hope that fall sports could begin on time if the state went with Plan A, a less restrictive scenario than Plan B, with minimal social distancing.

“It would be my hope that we can play sports recognizing and understanding that we’re going to have to make some modifications,” Tucker said.

According to Tucker, there are still a number of unknown factors that contribute heavily to decisions regarding high school athletics returning for the fall semester. With the targeted date for resumption of schools in North Carolina scheduled for Aug. 17, Tucker contends that input from health and safety officials will play a significant role in what the fall athletic landscape will look like, as well as whether a particular fall sports season will be able to start as currently scheduled.

“By Aug. 17, if we have an understanding from NCDHHS that we can proceed with higher-risk sports [such as football and soccer] and [understand] what those health and safety guidelines would be, we could then move forward and be able to play some games,” Tucker said. “If you back up from that, when the governor makes an announcement, we’ll have a better feel for the Aug. 1 date for first official practice for fall sports or whether we’d have to push things back to Aug. 15 or Sept. 1 … I try not to draw any lines in the sand or cross any lines. If we get an Oct. 1 date, for example, to go ahead and play some sports, it would be incumbent upon us as a staff to put together some sort of a schedule for those kids to play, even if it’s a month or a month and a half, and end with a conference championship. But it’s not fair to students or coaches to preempt what the governor and his team are trying to do to keep us safe as North Carolinians.”

Tucker also recognized the challenges that have arisen with attempting to determine the best and most feasible courses of action for all of the 421 member schools of the NCHSAA during the pandemic.

“The biggest challenge is the fact that there’s such flexibility given to individual school systems,” Tucker said, noting her belief that once Cooper announced a reopening plan, some school systems might be more restrictive in opening their schools or open their schools in a different manner, which could pose an issue. She also indicated additional logistical issues after the reopening plan is announced, including travel to schools, to practices and to game sites.

“There are other challenges besides just the games being played,” Tucker said.

Tucker said the association would make “allowances” if needed, such as the combination of conferences if some schools aren’t able to compete.

The commissioner also pointed out that the association is also looking beyond just the approaching fall athletic season, but also thinking toward winter sports that pose their own set of potential challenges.

“In this office, we are thinking about fall sports for sure, but we are also thinking about winter sports. As much as anything, nobody wants to talk about this, but wrestling to me is problematic. It’s a winter sport, but nobody ever asks me about how you’re gonna wrestle or what season are you going to put wrestling in,” Tucker said. “What are we going to do about swimming and all of the swimmers who are typically on the deck at a state swimming championship or even just dual competition? Nobody asks us about those. What about indoor track and all of those individuals? We’re absolutely thinking about winter sports because those sports are played inside, and what happens when you come inside? You don’t have as much air circulating, germs typically go rampant, so we’re thinking about that and how will we adapt and adjust in those times, especially as we continue to hear the doctors and all say to us that there is another wave coming, and once we get to the flu season, coupling that with the still-existing challenges with COVID-19, it’s going to be very, very problematic.”

Tucker also confirmed the NCHSAA’s application and acceptance of a Paycheck Protection Program loan used for operational purposes and protecting staff payroll.

“The NCHSAA applied for PPP along with almost every state association … as a nonprofit 501c3 that we could be able to protect our staff payroll through the allowable period of time. [The loan] helped to secure staff salaries and has allowed for the chance to provide the same level of service to our member schools,” Tucker noted. “We’ll use the funds to help pay staff members and have used it as designated, and anticipate that the loan will be forgiven and that we will not be saddled with any kind of a payment plan.”

Anna Oakes contributed reporting to this article.

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