William Penn Football

When the DIAA Board of Directors voted September 28 as the date to commence fall sports in Delaware, it wasn't the top choice of the state's heads of school, but as the first [electric] whistle prepares to sound, plenty of questions remain.

Between the Delaware Division of Public Health and the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, some much-needed guidance was delivered to schools, families, officials belatedly, or in same cases not at all, going into the final weekend before sports resume.

Will our volleyball gym be ready?

As of Thursday afternoon, just five gyms in Delaware had been approved by the Delaware Division of Public Health to even begin full activities, most notably, girls volleyball.

Schools were told by the Division of Public Health to submit plans on how they would ventilate the facilities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but additional information was needed, and DIAA Executive Director Donna Polk said during Thursday's Board of Directors meeting that there was a 10-14 day backlog on schools getting plans approved, or the corrections needed, to get players on the court.

Polk said a compromise was reached where a school who had submitted plans could at least practice conditioning or individual skills, but that could place some teams at a disadvantage in the three-week build-up to the truncated regular season.

The problem is, that hasn't been settled everywhere, and athletes practice on Monday.

Will the masks we purchased be legal, can I get out of using them?

The Delaware Division of Public Health mandate that masks be used during competition in high-contact sports like football, wrestling, and lacrosse, and medium-risk contact sports such as field hockey, volleyball, soccer, and others is only being duplicated in one other state, Michigan, but it is here.

The DIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee interpreted the DPH guidance to say no mask, no play, but there is a portion of the DIAA plan that allows for a medical accommodation for those who might struggle with the mask. DIAA said those decisions will have to be made by medical professionals, but it's unclear there that means there is a gateway for athletes to get out of using the masks, or if the masks-or-else policy remains.

Then there's a question whether the masks being bought to satisfy the mandatory mask rule will be accepted.

Dr. Bradley Bley said during Thursday's meeting that the state standard is a double-layer mask for high-contact sports, although he was hoping to reduce medium-contact sports down to single-layer masks in the others.

The problem is, that hasn't been settled, and athletes practice on Monday.

Will we have enough referees, can we get more from other places?

The Delaware Interscholastic Officials Council has stated that they are hopeful they will be able to supply enough referees in time for the seasons, although some schedule modifications could be needed.

Referees are facing the same questions as many of the athletes. What types of masks will they have to use, will that make it too difficult for some of the older or more medically-vulnerable officials to work?

One idea is to bring in officials from out of state, but they would have to receive DIAA certification, and even then, still have to adhere to the referee guidelines that have not been put in place.

There's still a few more weeks to get this situation settled, especially since scrimmages won't be allowed in Delaware until at least October 16, since scrimmages were lumped with competitions by mistake, and can't be amended until the next Board of Education meeting on October 15.

That said, athletes begin practice on Monday.

Will Salesianum be able to put together a football schedule?

The Blue Hen Conference's decision to play an all-conference schedule among their 16 teams froze out non-conference opportunities for Delaware's only Division 1 non-conference school.

The Sals were able to pick up Henlopen North squads Dover, Smyrna, and Sussex Central, but unless Sussex Tech -- the only other Division 1 team still sitting with a bye week -- accommodates the Sals, or DIAA/DPH allows the Sals to find out-of-state competition, it could be a three-game schedule for the traditional power.

Their soccer team at least picked up 8 of the allotted 12 games, including what could be the first game at Abessinio Stadium against Saint Mark's on November 11. Last year they only played 5 in-state regular season games.

The Sals begin practice on Monday.

Will I be able to watch my athlete play?

Except for the DIAA tournament, this answer will come down to a conversation between schools/districts and the DPH.

Governor Carney's executive order only allows for outdoor gatherings of 250 people, or indoor ones of 30% fire code -- up to 250 -- without getting a plan approved by DPH.

Considering DPH's response time for opening up volleyball gyms, if a school was interested in having a large gathering at a football game, they probably would need to supply that now.

It's going to be up to districts, but unless the guidelines from the state change, it would be hard to see how a game between two Division 1 football teams that could have close to 100 total players gets more than one spectator per player in the stadium, when you consider that 250 also includes coaches, referees, personnel, and media.

It doesn't have to be decided Monday, but athletes begin practice on Monday.

Could Delaware schools be hit with an extra cost that could make athletic budgets even tighter?

Schools are already having to find ways to pay for extra PPE and transportation to meet state guidelines for COVID mitigation and social distancing requirements, but it appears the insurance agents want their piece of the pie as well.

Towards the end of Thursday's meeting Caesar Rodney Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald voiced a concern towards the DIAA and Department of Education, who did not supply an answer, citing the fact it was not on the agenda for the meeting.

"We got word today, that there's a question with DIAA carrying the same insurance coverage that it's carried in the past, and that insurance companies are reaching out to business managers in each one of our districts - and this is kind of unexpected - that the coverage that we've always received under DIAA and state is now being questioned as the result of the state having sovereign immunity. 

I know this was an issue that had come up under Kevin Charles in the past, and it was not an issue because that was something that each one of the schools and the districts needed to have. Getting off the phone with my business manager and my insurance agent, this is something that is going to happen by Monday, and there is something that I have to pay for, that was not in my budget."

How much increased insurance could cost each district is unclear, but they would need insurance for athletes to get on the field on Monday.

Many of these questions could have had time to work themselves out if they had time, but when the DIAA Board choose September 28 instead of October 5 [or later], neglecting discussing many of the ramifications of rushing through the process of reopening in a COVID environment, it promises to be a busy weekend for schools, as they hope things work themselves out.

Athletes begin practice on Monday, here's hoping DIAA and the schools are ready.