Dan Harding was part of a large crowd.
Like many area student-athletes, coaches and parents, Harding, the Bayside Conference president and Kent Island High athletic director, wondered if there would be any high school athletics this school year.
But after meeting with Queen Anne’s County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Andrea Kane last week, and hearing feedback from other Eastern Shore superintendents and athletic directors, Harding began feeling more confident there actually would be a fall and spring sports season this year.
That confidence turned into a reality Tuesday after Bayside Athletic Supervisors, with support of conference superintendents, released an announcement stating the fall and spring athletic seasons would take place. The announcement noted the goal for each season is to offer in person coaching/training of student-athletes along with competitive events.
The fall season, which includes football, field hockey, golf, volleyball, soccer and cross country, is scheduled to start Feb. 13 with tryouts and practices, and end April 17. Games for the fall season are slated to start March 5.
The spring season — baseball, softball, boys’ and girls’ tennis, lacrosse, and track and field — is scheduled to start April 17 and end June 19.
“We were kind of looking to re-engage athletes as soon as we thought we could,” Harding said in a phone interview Tuesday, Feb. 2. “We gave a lot of conversation, debate around skipping fall and going with spring. But with fall being almost all outside and volleyball being able to wear masks inside, we were comfortable with that. And we wanted to engage these athletes, especially these students that are struggling academically. We think it’s going to be a big boost to them.”
With the conference’s 18 schools still locked in virtual learning after the Christmas holiday break because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bayside announced Jan. 11 it was canceling the 2020-21 winter sports season, which includes boys’ and girls’ basketball, wrestling, swimming, ice hockey, and indoor track and field.
But students began returning to some schools this week, and Harding said the COVID-19 metrics have improved.
“And I think the sense I’m getting from the community is that the concern for the disengaged student and athlete is growing greater than the concern for the metrics,” Harding said. “But the metrics are getting better, and vaccines are getting out. And I think people are feeling a little bit more comfortable.”
Harding said all 18 Bayside schools will compete in both seasons, and that school athletic directors have scheduled a meeting for next week to begin putting together the many logistical pieces, including schedules and travel plans.
“We’re looking to play multiple games a week, obviously factoring in possible COVID-19-related issues and then the weather. I wouldn’t have had a playable field today,” Harding said in reference to Tuesday’s wintry mix that would have left a number of Bayside playing fields in poor condition. “So that’s a concern. But it’s one I think we can tackle.”
Though nothing has been hashed out or finalized, Harding said conference athletic supervisors are initially looking a season where North Bayside schools would play each other, and South Bayside schools would do the same.
Harding also said there has been early conversation about equity and fairness, not wanting to have a 1A school play a string of 2A schools.
“It should be uplifting,” Harding said of athletics return. “Really our focus has to be on just re-engagement. Competition is a healthy part of it, but we’re not playing for a fall state championship. It’s really about getting the kids back and moving, and then hopefully transitioning seamlessly from fall into spring.”
As regard to potential conference playoffs, Harding said it’s up for discussion.
“That’s on the table. We’d like to offer something if it makes sense,” Harding said of a potential postseason to the abbreviated regular season. “But at this point, priority is getting the kids re-engaged and playing as many games as safely possible. That (a playoff) may be a last-week decision to be honest with you. But we want to play. And it’s always fun to play for something.
“I think that’s what kept the supervisors, the building principals, the superintendents, and certainly the local athletic directors kind of charged up is just the hope to get to this and keep moving forward,” Harding continued. “There’s been a lot of planning and re-planning. But if we can pull it off I think that would be pretty cool.”