Delayed Start and Shortened Seasons Implemented as a Result of Pandemic
By: Garrett Mitchell, Staff Writer
Prep athletes across the state of South Carolina have been sitting in limbo for months amid the COVID-19 pandemic, wondering when or if they would be allowed to return to practice and live competition.
On July 15, the South Carolina High School League (SCHSL) rendered a decision that, for the moment, gives a glimmer of hope to athletes statewide that they may be able to return to the field soon.
In a 14-2 vote, league leadership approved a modified plan to play a delayed and shortened fall sports season, rejecting a proposal from Lexington School District One that would have seen fall and spring sports inverted in an attempt to play the lowest risk sports first.
Instead, the SCHSL decreed that, at least tentatively, fall sports practice statewide among its member schools can began on August 17 at the earliest, with competition resuming in early September.
For Woodruff coaches and athletes, it was welcome news amid the uncertainty of the past five months.
“There were two plans out there,” said Woodruff High Athletic Director Mike Morris. “The High School League had a plan and also there was a plan from Lexington One. A lot of coaches, I think, and AD’s, thought that the High School League might end up going with the Lexington One proposal or a proposal similar to theirs that moves the higher contact sports like football, wrestling, and volleyball to the spring but it just didn’t happen. We just have to go by what the league has put in place.”
The plan proposed by the Lexington leadership, in essence, would have seen the high school sports calendar divided into four seasons, with shortened schedules for each sport slotted into one of the four sets of dates based on contact and the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Under the Lexington plan, the first abbreviated seasons would be played from Sept. 21-Nov. 27 and include girls’ tennis, golf, baseball, softball, and cross country. Season two, the winter season, would run from November 23-January 29 and consist of boys’ and girls’ basketball and spirit cheer.
The spring seasons would be divided into two sets of dates. The first spring season would be played from Jan. 25-April 2 and include football, volleyball, and competitive cheer. The second spring season, from March 22-May 28 would see track, wrestling, and soccer returning to competition.
The plan was roundly defeated by a vote from the SCHSL’s executive committee.
Instead, the league has opted to try and keep each sports season in its traditional time frame as much as current circumstances will allow. That news was welcome for Woodruff head football coach Bradley Adams.
“It has been a very difficult and challenging summer trying to develop any type of long-term plan for our team,” he said. “It is great that we finally do have something we can follow. It allows our staff, players, and parents a much more structured environment because we have a plan to follow.”
Morris said that the league’s decision could have been influenced, in part, by the worry of a trickledown effect of flipping seasons and the effect it would have on the future 2021-22 athletic calendar.
“Obviously you want to keep the sports in the proper seasons if you can,” Morris said. “We’re in some strange times and I think, there’s a chance, even if we get started on this model sports might end up getting pushed into spring. We just don’t know right now. I wish this thing wasn’t here and we could get on with a normal schedule but it’s not looking that way for the fall right now.”
Still, with the league plan, Woodruff and all member schools have altered their existing schedules to fit the timeline given. Football, if played in the fall, will be shortened by three games, with schools playing conference games first followed by up to two non-region contests if room on the new schedule allows. Other sports, including volleyball and girls’ tennis, would play a 16-game or match schedule and cross country would compete in 10 meets. Subsequently, winter and spring sports would see a reduction in the number of games as well with those schedules to be finalized at a later time.
As it stands, Woodruff football will open their season Sept. 11 on the road at defending 3A state champion Chapman before coming home for three straight games against Union County, Emerald, and Broome. A road contest at Clinton would cap region play before a home contest against Chester and away game at Chesnee to end the regular season. The play-offs are tentatively scheduled to begin on October 30 with football taking only the top two teams in each region and playing a four-round format. State championships would be played on Nov. 20.
For Morris, the league directive on returning to play is also a promising sign that even more high school athletes will not have their seasons taken as spring sports saw prior to the conclusion of the previous academic year.
“That was a tough thing for our seniors in the spring, “said Morris. “They missed out on their senior seasons and we definitely don’t want that to happen again to anybody. Football especially here is very sacred so I would hate to see our football seniors miss their chance to play on Friday nights for sure.”
Ultimately, however, the number one goal is safety during the ongoing health crisis and Adams says he and his staff can now focus on putting together a protocol that will allow for a safe return to competition for all athletes.
“Most importantly we have to follow all the protocols to stay safe,” Adams said. “Currently, we are still waiting on what the new protocols will be as we head into practice on Aug. 17. Currently we are going to continue to do what we have been doing all summer from within the phase one guidelines.”
Note: Lexington School District One appealed the High School League’s ruling to the state appellate committee on July 22. The appellate board will make a final ruling on Aug. 10.