Normally, by now we'd be well into the high school football season--but 2020 is no normal year. We've called it the Lost Year because of all the cancellations that have occurred related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced in mid-August that because of the pandemic, most Fall sports would be moved to a later date. Football is now scheduled for late February through early April. Volleyball will be the first sport to begin competition in mid-November. All sports will see reduced schedules--the football season will only be seven games.
Parker told reporters that the Cross Country season schedule is still being worked out. One problem is where the meets can be held. North Lincoln has its own cross country trail, but most schools don't. Cross Country is one of only two sports that will have a conference tournament to determine seeding in state playoffs. There's still some question as to whether there will be a Swim season. None of the conference schools have their own pool and locations they have used have agreed to allow them to practice, but holding meets there may or may not be permitted. Instead, virtual times may be used to qualify for the state competition.
The NCHSAA announced its plans for the 2020-2021 playoffs as well as a few additional changes to some sports seasons last week.
There will be no dual team playoffs in wrestling and tennis. Playoff fields will also be reduced to 32 teams in most sports, down from the previous 64-team fields, with football still subdividing into two 16-team brackets.
With North Carolina now in Phase 2.5 of Governor Cooper's reopening plan, the new relaxed restricitons mean a total of 25 people can attend an indoor event and 50 people can attend an outdoor event--but those restrictions, Parker said, include players and coaches--so unless things change (we move into Phase 3 or end the restrictions altogether) that may mean no significant fan presence.
Among the other changes announced last week, Cross Country and Track teams can now take part in 14 meets instead of 10. In golf and tennis, boys and girls will be allowed to practice simultaneously when their seasons overlap. Wrestling tournaments will not be allowed, but teams can take part in two tri-meets per week.
The Volleyball regular season will run from Nov. 16th-Jan. 8th with the playoffs set for Jan. 12-Jan. 23.
Cross Country is also allowed for Nov. 16th-Jan. 8th with a regional meet Jan. 16th and the state meet Jan. 23rd.
Basketball will be played from Jan. 14th-Feb. 19th with the playoffs set for Feb. 23-March 6.
Boys Soccer will begin Jan. 25th with the playoffs March 16-27.
Football playoffs are set for April 16-May 8.
Boys & Girls Golf will begin March 15th with a regional tournament May 3rd or 4th and the state tournament May 10-11.
Boys tennis is also to begin March 15th with a regional tournament May 7-8 and the state tournament May 14-15.
Girls soccer is also to begin March 15th with playoffs May 3-15.
Softball is also scheduled for a March 15th first game and playoffs May 3-15.
Baseball is to begin April 26th with playoffs June 15-26.
Girls tennis and Track will also begin April 26th with the state tournament June 25-26. Track will have a regional meeting June 18-19.
Wrestling will begin April 26th with a regional meet June 18-19 and the state meet June 26th.
Perhaps the biggest announcement from Tuesday's press conference was an agreement that so far includes five of the conference's schools. Chris Ritchie of Video Stream Team will provide online video of some events--including (so far) volleyball, basketball and football (others may be added). As of Tuesday, five of the conference's eight teams had signed on for the streaming. That includes West Lincoln, North Lincoln, East Lincoln, Maiden and Bandys. While Lake Norman Charter won't be included, it's likely that the other two schools will.
The schools will pay Ritchie to produce the live video, selling sponsorship to businesses, and then the schools will charge for viewing the events. The price is yet to be finalized.
Ritchie, a West Lincoln grad, produced a video of the West Lincoln Homecoming football game last year. He got his start in broadcasting while still in high school at WLON Radio. After college, he was a very successful radio announcer at a Knoxville radio station and also worked in tv production; he continues to do tv commercials now that he has retired to Lincoln County. He has also done videos of the Lincolnton and Cat Square Christmas parades, the Apple Festival, and other events on his LincolntonLive! website. The South Fork Conference will have its own website for the games that will be included in the live stream. Fans will pay for the right to stream the games on a single device. Games will be available on a per game basis and a package involving all of a particular school's home games may also be available.
Parker noted the cost to schools to operate their athletic programs, much of it usually covered by sponsorships from area businesses and some by fans paying for admission to games. Attendance at high school games was already down before the pandemic, and with the pandemic also slowing business, some regular sponsors have been unable to provide their usual support this year.
"Our main concern," Parker said, "is the safety of our student athletes. As much as possible, we also want them to have the same opportunities their brothers and sisters had in previous--normal--years. It's going to be different, that's for sure; and with the pandemic, remember, everything is still subject to change."
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