By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on January 29, 2021
First Flight High School Athletic Director (AD) Chad Williams does not minimize the challenges of fielding a sports program during a pandemic that has students learning in their homes rather than in school buildings.
“The most challenging for me is the loss of the relationship in the day-to-day interactions of our kids,” he told the Voice. “Athletics is just the means in which some of us are fortunate enough to reach kids on a different level. I know that the kids miss that, but any coach worth their salt, needs it as much or more than they do. Our teams become an extension of our families and the pandemic has left a hole there.”
Currituck High School Athletic Director Todd Parker outlines another kind of problem posed by the restrictions on live audiences. The “biggest challenge is the hit on the budget,” he said. “Officials and equipment expenses are still there, but with limited attendance and no concessions to sell, the financial losses are growing.”
In this most unusual and difficult sports season, the Voice emailed a series of questions to the athletic directors at First Flight High School, Manteo High School, Cape Hatteras Secondary School and Currituck High School. The question asked about operating a high school sports program when COVID has disrupted everything from scheduling to practicing to the size of the live crowd. Here’s what they told us.
The school sports whose seasons are underway are swimming, basketball and cheerleading. Soccer is just getting started, as is lacrosse at First Flight High School. The cross-country season has just ended.
Social distancing and limited crowds come with the territory. The athletic directors report that there is a limit of 25 fans for indoor events and 30% of seating capacity for outdoor games. Currituck’s Parker noted that in that community, there are no fans for swimming. Manteo Athletic Director Alfie Wheeler pointed out that everyone is required to wear a mask and the school wants “fans that do not live in the same household to social distance.”
Asked how dramatically practice schedules and routines have changed, the directors made clear things are very different. Timothy Spruill of Cape Hatteras Secondary School that among other things, practice times are limited to 90 minutes. First Flight’s Williams wrote that, “We have added required temperature checks prior to all practices and contests, and currently all athletes have to wear masks indoor or out (except for swim, and they must wear on deck).”
Parker from Currituck High said there are “limitations for swim times and lane sizes for swimming due to covid restrictions, basketball [is] using multiple sites (middle schools and elementary schools) for spacing.”
With live attendance limited, there are still ways for fans to see the games live.
Parker said that the NFHS Network streams games live for a subscription fee, while some schools are offering Facebook live and YouTube. Spruill says Hatteras Secondary streams all its games live on YouTube.
Manteo’s Wheeler pointed out that fans of that school can visit the manteoathletics.com website and click on live events to see the games.
And Williams, of First Flight High, wrote that “We are live streaming all indoor home events via the First Flight athletic YouTube channel…For outdoor events, it’s more difficult to plan, prepare and execute a full schedule. Our plan is to select one or two outdoor events per week and stream those as well.”
While acknowledging the organizational, financial and interpersonal challenges of running a sports program during a pandemic, all four athletic directors offered similar responses when asked about the most encouraging aspect of this experience.
“By far the most encouraging aspect of this is the resiliency of our student athletes and coaches. We have found a way over, under and around any roadblocks that could have stopped us from carrying on the rich athletic tradition that we have here at First Flight. I could not be more proud of our coaches and athletes,” said Williams.
“The most encouraging thing has been that it has allowed students an outlet,” wrote Wheeler. “These are challenging times, and although things are different, students are able to stay physically active, spend time with teammates, and compete.”
Parker said that, “Although we have hit some hurdles and shutdowns of teams for safety,” the most encouraging thing has been “the understanding from the parents and athletes to follow the guidelines we have given them.”
As for Spruill, he said simply: “The most encouraging thing about this experience is how well we have all come together to make this the best we can for all of our kids.”