Column: Sports are almost here. Let’s do our part to keep them going.

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 11/11/20

A little extra legwork. A lot more normalcy.

When Chatham County high school sports officially return next Monday after an eight-month hiatus, that’s an adjustment I’m more than willing to …

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Column: Sports are almost here. Let’s do our part to keep them going.

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A little extra legwork. A lot more normalcy.

When Chatham County high school sports officially return next Monday after an eight-month hiatus, that’s an adjustment I’m more than willing to make. And I hope you feel the same way.

It’s been a long and winding road for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association and its member schools since mid-March, when commissioner Que Tucker and company made the initial call to suspend all athletic activities in reaction to a very new, very confusing and very frightening coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, the association has been listening, learning and reacting on the fly with a steady stream of safety guidelines, skill sessions, revamped schedules and lots and lots of Zoom meetings.

And after (gulp) 248 days, it’ll all come to fruition on Monday, Nov. 16: the day that we — a state’s worth of high school administrators, coaches, athletes, parents and media — take a deep breath, buckle down, mask up and try, once and for all, to get this train back on track and out of the station.

Personally, I can’t wait.

It will, of course, be a massive undertaking, with 100-plus school districts and 400-plus member schools all navigating the quirks and qualms that come with a COVID-19-altered athletic year, which kicks off with two low-contact sports, volleyball and cross country, next week and swimming early next month.

If this summer and fall have taught me anything, though, it’s that the high schools here in Chatham — and, I’m sure, everywhere else from Murphy to Manteo — are going to give it their best shot.

Since June, I’ve seen plenty across the county to lead me to that conclusion: 90-minute basketball workouts conducted without a single pass, some wonky volleyball drills and early-morning socially distanced football conditioning conducted without a single ball in sight, just to name a few.

The NCHSAA’s preseason safety protocols — a logical set of guidelines that have loosened as we approach the regular season — didn’t make for the smoothest offseason anywhere, whether it was Northwood, Jordan-Matthews, Chatham Central, Woods Charter or Chatham Charter.

But for months, the message from those schools’ athletic directors, coaches and athletes has been a consistent one: we want to play, so we’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Now, they’re on the cusp of it.

Be warned: the 2020-21 athletic year is going to be flat-out unpredictable. Expect a steady stream of questions, frustrations, last-second adjustments and, yes, positive coronavirus cases. Every sport played outside of a bubble — most notably, the NFL and college football — has made that much clear.

The keys to making this work? Flexibility. Contingency. And to borrow a phrase from Chris Blice, Chatham County Schools’ district athletic director, “following the guidelines with fidelity.”

In other words, loyalty. To safely host a volleyball match, for example, it’ll take everyone abiding by the rulebook: the coaches, the athletes, the school officials on site and even fans, who will have to adjust to new capacity limits — 25 people maximum at indoor events, 100 people maximum at outdoor events.

And that obviously extends off the court and the field, where social distancing, sanitation and masks (Sorry, Dan Forest, but they work!) remain as important as ever in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

Case in point: if we listen to the experts and all do our part, we’ll get the games we’ve been waiting for.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? I could wax poetic on high school sports for days, as I’m sure many of you all could, too. They’re a training ground, a formative experience, a community staple and just flat-out fun, even if you deservedly rode the bench for the Lincoln Charter varsity men’s tennis team like me.

So, as we gear up for next week, remember what it’ll take for a lot more normalcy: a little extra legwork.

In 2020, that goes a long way.

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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