CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - Youth and high school sports — or at least some of them — will soon be ready to resume in North Carolina.
N.C. Governor Roy Cooper and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen released a set of recommendations for non-contact sports to resume in Phase 2 of the state’s re-opening plan, which went into effect 5 p.m. Friday.
The recommendations will apply to non-contact sports such as baseball, swimming and golf. Those non-contact sports will be allowed to resume so long as certain guidelines are followed.
Contact sports, such as basketball and football, are not yet allowed.
The state’s guidelines, for participants of youth, college and amateur sports, include:
▪ Limiting sports activities to those where participants can maintain social distancing or have brief contact with each other. The DHHS listed sports such as golf, baseball, cycling, swimming, dance, tennis, disc golf, horseback riding, track, figure skating, curling, running and pickleball.
▪ For sports such as football, competitive cheer, lacrosse, basketball, soccer, wrestling, rugby and hockey, the state recommends activities be limited to “athletic conditioning drills and practices in which dummy players, sleds, punching bags and similar equipment are used but athletes are not playing the actual sport.”
▪ Closing or marking off common seating areas like dugouts or bleachers; having individuals work out in pods with the same group always together; and to remind individuals to not shake hands, give high fives or fist bumps.
▪ A strong recommendation was made that athletes, staff and participants wear a cloth face covering when not actively engaged in physical activity or when they may be close to other people.
“We know that contact sports, like basketball or football, where you’re in each other’s personal spaces, where you’re breathing out respiratory droplets on one another,” Cohen said Friday, “we know that is a higher way of spreading the virus as opposed to non-contact sports like tennis, or baseball, or individual sports like swimming or golf. Those non-contact sports, we said that it is fine to proceed from a recommendation perspective, but then we do have some guidance on how to do each of those activities safely. We’re not recommending contact sports go forward, but for non-contact sports to go forward but with some guidelines.”
At a press briefing Friday, prior to the guidelines being released, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said county practice fields will still be closed.
“And at this time,” she said, “our practice fields will still be closed for practices and games so people can go out there and use them. But there’s not going to be any organized sports that will be permitted on any of our sports fields at this time.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ summer when calendar, when off-season sports workouts would begin, starts June 10.
Earlier this week, the National Federation of State High Schools (NFHS) released a plan for state associations to consider as they try to bring back sports. The guidelines break down sports by risk levels — lower risk, moderate and higher risk — and include a three-tiered plan to resume play based on that risk.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association and other individual state governing bodies are not bound by those guidelines. The NCHSAA recently announced its was ending a dead period it started two months ago and would allow sports to resume June 1, provided that member schools had clearance from local and state government.
NCHSAA spokesperson James Alverson said the association has been in contact with the DHHS concerning the next steps needed to return athletic activities but wanted time to discuss the guidelines with its membership and board of directors.
“These conversations,” Alverson said, “will help us determine a more specific and more detailed path forward.”
The NCHSAA has scheduled a news conference Tuesday at 4 p.m. to discuss its plans.
Monday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced that it would not rent its classrooms or gyms to outside parties, including youth sports teams, due to the pandemic. The district worries it cannot meet social distance, screening and sanitation requirements to keep participants safe.
A district spokesperson told the Observer these guidelines did not apply to CMS high school teams, who would be using facilities for summer workouts, weightlifting and team camps, assuming they are cleared to do so.
Via email, spokesman Brian Hacker said earlier this week that “there has been no decision made concerning any CMS athletics during the summer months. As soon as we get answers, we will communicate the through the usual CMS channels.”
N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association executive director Homar Ramirez said he expects the state’s private schools to begin “abbreviated activities” beginning in June, based on NFHS recommendations. He did not expect schools to begin with football or summer basketball at that time.