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Spring sports shut down: NCHSAA puts all sports on hiatus until at least April 6

By Marc Pruitt
For the Clemmons Courier

The athletic fields at West Forsyth will be empty for at least the next few weeks.

The spring sports season for all high school teams in North Carolina, which had only recently gotten started, was shut down until at least April 6 in an announcement by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association last Thursday. Two days later, Roy Cooper, the governor, shut down all public schools for a period of two weeks, March 16-30. Both moves came in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus throughout the country.

Que Tucker, the commissioner of the NCHSAA, said that spring sports could be canceled entirely but that she remains optimistic for a return to the playing fields.

“Certainly, that is a possibility, but I like to lean toward the positive,” Tucker said during a teleconference last Friday. “I’m going to be hopeful and prayerful that this situation will be different when we get to April 6. Thursday’s events and the decisions we made were certainly uncharted territory for much of the athletic world and the NCHSAA was no exception in that regard.”

Mike Pennington, the West Forsyth athletics director, wasn’t to surprised that the decision came down. Following the path of several major sporting events and leagues that have canceled or postponed games and championships, such as the ACC Tournament, NCAA Tournament, and The Masters, Pennington said the writing was on the wall.

“I had a feeling that it might happen with everything that was going on with the NBA, and the colleges, I really thought that we might end up playing without fans at games,” Pennington said. “I hate it, but I get it. Safety trumps getting to kick a soccer ball or hit a baseball.”

Kevin Baity, whose softball team at West Forsyth opened the season 3-3, was disappointed in the decision, but also understood.

“Never seen anything like it,” said Baity, who has coached for 25 seasons. “Right now, we’ve got six games under out belt and we were going to put a few things in today (at practice last Thursday), and now I don’t know that we’ll get to see them again. I just hope we get to play again. I don’t know how you handle this mentally. I really hate it for the seniors. My daughter, Laiken, is a senior at Forbush and plays softball and she asked me, ‘Dad what if I don’t get to play my senior season?’ That’s what I’m worried about.”

Brad Bullard, whose baseball team was 3-1 before the season was placed on hold, also understood.

“We’ll be shutting things down for roughly three weeks and hopefully we can get going again at some point,” Bullard said. “We’re all in the same boat and safety is the priority for everyone. My hope is that this isn’t the end and our seniors can get a few more games in so they can enjoy their final year playing in high school.”

Pennington said he has never encountered any situation like this.

“I’ve been around sports since I could walk and around them for 32 years in Forsyth County and this is unprecedented,” he said. “Can’t remember anything remotely like this. This isn’t just impacting our athletes and the community, but I’ve got coaches asking me if they will still be paid during  and that’s something we still don’t know yet. Everything is happening so fast. We hope we can eventually get back to playing at some point.”

Tucker was also hopeful that the season can continue at some point and admitted that the April 6 date was set in “Jell-O”.

“We hope that we are able to return to athletic competition soon,” Tucker said.

“There is nothing more that we want for our student-athletes than for them to be able to safely complete and finish their seasons in a healthy and safe manner. However, we recognize that difficult decisions must be made by those in leadership positions to best help not only our state, but our nation and our world as we try to contain the threat posed by COVID-19.”