By Earl Vaughan Jr.
Just when Cumberland County Schools athletics appeared to be preparing for a full return in 2021, the COVID-19 Grinch struck and wrecked the winter break for everyone.
Effective with the start of today’s break, the county schools administration announced that all practice and play in both athletics and extracurricular activities will be suspended until at least Jan. 18 of 2021.
The only exceptions are in the sports of girls’ volleyball and boys’ and girls’ cross country. Both are at the end of the regular season with playoff competition beginning shortly.
Any teams or individual athletes in those two sports who continue to advance will be allowed to practice and play until their seasons end.
For all other athletes, it means no play or practice for at least 31 days.
A pair of veteran coaches, Pine Forest football coach Bill Sochovka and Jack Britt basketball coach Ike Walker Jr., were disappointed but not surprised at the announcement in the wake of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.
The same day the new quarantine was announced in the county, COVID-19 became the leading cause of death in the United States, with as many people dying each day as died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York City.
Both Sochovka and Walker expressed concern that if their teams are even allowed to return to practice on Jan. 18, there is a real question whether or not they’ll be able to play their seasons.
Sochovka is concerned the quarantine may last longer once the county schools factor in the exam period as teams have to schedule workouts and games around the exam schedule.
Many schools took a break from off-season workouts in early December, Sochovka said. He hasn’t done off-season skill conditioning with his football players since Dec. 4.
Pine Forest is supposed to play its first football scrimmage Feb. 19 and its first game Feb. 26.
“We have 4-5 weeks to get ready and that’s barring weather issues,’’ he said. “None of us have had any piece of equipment on, helmets or shoulder pads, which is another acclimation part of it.’’
Sochovka said his biggest concern is his players being physically ready to play football for a seven-week season.
“The biggest question now is the safety of the kids,’’ he said.
Jack Britt faces a different problem. Britt and fellow county school Seventy-First are members of the Sandhills Athletic Conference, which includes schools from five different school systems.
If Britt and Seventy-First are held out of action until late January by the quarantine, Walker isn’t sure how the conference will handle it since all the other teams are scheduled to begin a 14-game all-conference basketball schedule on Jan. 4, playing only two games a week.
“As of right now, no other schools in our league have shut down,’’ Walker said. “I don’t know if that will eventually happen or not. If it doesn’t that conference will be playing games without us and Seventy-First.’’
Walker said his team did a week of skill workouts then began regular practices on Dec. 7. They got in 10 full practices prior to today’s shutdown.
Walker said it would be difficult for his team to return to play in January while the other teams had been practicing and playing nearly two-thirds of the month.
“I don’t even know if that’s doable,’’ he said of putting a season together at that late a date. “You have to look at maybe not playing as a reality.’’