Delaware's winter high school sports season to begin Monday, with very limited spectators

Brad Myers
Delaware News Journal

Competition in Delaware’s winter high school sports season will begin Monday.

But spectators will be very limited, at least for the first two weeks.

“As of now, barring any changes or any sudden shifts in the data, competitions will be able to resume on Jan. 11,” Jamie Mack, Chief of Health Systems Protection for the Delaware Division of Public Health, said during a special Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Directors meeting on Thursday morning. “That is primarily single games, single meets, matches, things like that. We’re not talking about any tournaments yet.”

Dover's Elijah Sessoms (right) defends Laurel's Javier White during the 2020 Henlopen Conference boys basketball championship game on Feb. 28 at Dover High. Competition in Delaware's delayed 2021 winter high school sports season is set to begin Monday.

As part of a stay-at-home advisory announced by Gov. John Carney and DPH on Dec. 4, the regular season for winter sports – which had been scheduled to begin Dec. 21 – was pushed back until at least Monday.

Mack said DPH is working with Carney’s office on updates to the current advisory.

“We are putting one restriction in place, in that we are severely limiting the number of spectators at these first games,” Mack said. “We’re putting in place limits that are similar to what’s in place for practices right now.

“We call it a no-spectator rule, but there is an allowance for one attendee to accompany the students, the athletes,” Mack said. “That would be in place likely for a couple of weeks until we see where the current data trends related to some of the holiday gatherings and things like that are going over the next week or two.”

Jamie Mack (center), Chief of Health Systems Protection for the Delaware Division of Public Health, told the DIAA Board of Directors on Thursday that teams will be limited to one spectator per athlete for at least the first two weeks when the state's winter high school sports season begins on Monday.

Mack said DPH expects to have the new order finalized later Thursday or Friday.

Winter sports practices began Nov. 30, and the state’s athletic directors, coaches and athletes are certainly ready to get competitions started. There are 52 boys basketball games, 52 girls basketball games, 37 wrestling dual matches, 20 boys swimming meets and 22 girls swimming meets scheduled next week.

Many of those events will be livestreamed by schools, and DPH will likely be watching to make sure spectator limits, universal mask wearing and other coronavirus safety protocols are being followed.

“It is very possible that DPH may be using those livestreams when we can, to just keep an eye on some of the events for compliance and some of those issues,” Mack said. “Obviously, we don’t have the staff to be everywhere, but I just want to put that out there.

“… If we do see non-compliance, it could be that a restriction is applied to individual schools until we get some concerns under control.”

Spectators from visiting schools were not allowed at many venues during the fall season, and that is likely to continue during the winter. Those policies may be set by individual schools, districts or conferences.

DIAA Executive Director Donna Polk said 11 coronavirus cases at six different schools have been reported among winter sports teams since practices began Nov. 30.

“We need to make sure that we’re ahead of things, not responding to incidents as they come up,” said board member Dr. Bradley Bley, who is also part of DIAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. “They are already investigating several cases of coronavirus right now on teams for potential non-compliance and potential spread on teams.

“That is threatening to shut us down for competitions. So we need to be ahead of the game and not reactionary.”

At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Carney said he was generally pleased with the way rules were followed and COVID-19 transmission was limited during Delaware’s fall high school season. But he has concerns as the games move indoors during the coldest months.

“Winter sports is another matter,” Carney said. “It’s indoors. Close contact, basketball and wrestling in particular.”

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