ROCKINGHAM — Wednesday was a whirlwind for high school athletics, as the North Carolina High School Athletic Association shook things up to try and give student-athletes some sense of normalcy.
Commissioner Que Tucker unveiled the new 2020-2021 sports schedule in a public video conference. There will be no fall sports played, and a combination of shifting and condensing seasons will set the tone for the upcoming school year.
A schedule that Tucker recognized as being fair and tries to give high school student-athletes some sort of semblance of a regular season, the first practice date won’t start until Nov. 4 with co-ed cross country and volleyball.
Perhaps the biggest hole left in the calendar will be football’s move from Aug. — Dec. to a seven-game season starting Feb. 8, 2021. This fall will mark the first time in Richmond Senior High School’s 48-year history that there will be no football played on Friday nights.
“I’m glad we’ll get to play some sort of (athletic) calendar,” athletic director Rob Ransom said. “For some time, we were afraid there wouldn’t be any sports, so something is better than nothing.
“If the (COVID-19) numbers continue to go up, they may cancel again,” the Richmond baseball coach added. “I’m excited for the kids — it’s not the normal season, nothing is normal right now. We’re trying to do the best we can do at this point.”
Several of Richmond’s fall sports programs began voluntary offseason workouts last week when Richmond County Schools officials cleared them for play in August’s Board of Education meeting. Now teams will get an extended workout period to properly prepare for their respective seasons.
Ransom noted some of the concerns are making sure coaches are not overlapping between seasons, as several coaches at Richmond participate in helping other programs throughout the school year. An athletic directors’ meeting for the eight Sandhills Athletic Conference schools is in the works, Ransom said, to “hash out some of the details.”
The shortening of seasons will cause all 13 of Richmond’s NCHSAA sanctioned sports to lose out on significant chunks of their season.
Boys’ and girls’ basketball, volleyball, boys’ and girls’ soccer, baseball and softball, boys’ and girls’ tennis and wrestling are limited to a maximum season schedule of 14 games or matches. Many of the programs play over 20 regular-season contests annually.
Cross country, boys’ and girls’ swimming and boys’ and girls’ track and field will be allowed to compete in up to 10 events. The NCHSAA announced the next step is working on a plan to create playoff formats that meet the new calendar.
Pushing sports to later in the school year was also a big part of the NCHSAA’s new schedule, seeing boys’ soccer, girls’ golf, girls’ tennis and wrestling (all of which are either fall or winter sports) moved to March and April starts.
“We’re going to miss some games, and we know there’s going to be an impact (on our athletic program),” Ransom explained. “How much, we don’t’ know right now. A lot of what we’re looking at, there is no answer right now.”
The Lady Raider volleyball team and third-year head coach Ashleigh Larsen will be one of just two programs to play a somewhat normally-timed schedule when their first practice starts on Nov. 4.
Playing a 14-match volleyball schedule would suggest playing each SAC team twice, and the same goes for other sports like soccer, basketball, baseball and softball, but no official scheduling decisions have been made following the latest change.
“I’m definitely excited to have a season, and I think it’s a reasonable season for us given the circumstances,” Larsen said. “The big thing is it gives us some time to sit and figure out our plan for workouts and practice. The definitive start date gives the girls peace of mind.
“As coaches, we are going to get our minds wrapped around what we have to do, and hopefully we can get into the gym soon,” she added. “With a high number of girls and no phase three, we can’t change our action plan at this time.”
The NCHSAA is issuing a mandatory dead period between Aug. 17 and Aug. 24, a time that Larsen said she and her coaching staff will get together to formulate a new plan. Larsen emphasized the importance of “getting the girls rolling in school since academics come first.”
Fourth-year head football coach Bryan Till echoed Ransom and Larsen’s sentiments about the NCHSAA releasing a definitive timeline for interscholastic sports. Football requires the most amount of pre-season preparation, seeing players work their way through no pads, to helmets and shoulder pads and eventually full contact.
There are seven other schools in the SAC, so ideally the Raiders would play a seven-game regular-season. Till emphasized that could change depending on whether or not other schools within the conference decide to have a season. But for now, he’s remaining upbeat and is rooting his players on for a season he hopes to see happen.
“My initial reaction to the news was I was glad we’re playing,” Till said. “I’ve had some time to digest it and I told the guys yesterday there are some really good points to all this. We lost spring prep time, but now we have the fall and winter to get ready. We’re going to train the guys and get them in peak shape, and it’s exciting to do that.”
Till also said though the season is small, it’s “still pretty significant” because this year’s team “is a great group that wants to come back out and win a state championship.” Richmond has a strong senior class this year, as five players have already verbally committed to play Division I football.
A limited season will also impact recruiting players, but Till believes a Feb. season may benefit his rising juniors. If college football teams have open schedules, he said, that allows for recruiters to come watch players in live games.
For the “bubble guys,” senior players with talent who are relying on their final season to land an offer, Till said colleges will have to adapt to the new schedule because they’ll still need to fill roster spots.
“Our plan right now is to get together as a coaching staff next week during the dead period and put our heads together to hammer out a plan,” Till said. “We want to get some clarity from the Association, but our main focus will be on our players’ physical development and then their football development.”
ROSports will release complete season schedules for all Richmond teams when they become available.