“It’s not fair,” Howes said over the phone Wednesday evening, her voice more animated than usual after the Frederick County Board of Education voted unanimously to stay the course with the public school system’s current second-semester plan for high school sports and reject Gov. Larry Hogan’s call for them to begin later this month.
“For them to talk about how they know what’s best for the kids, they don’t have a clue,” Howes said, referring to members of the board.
Howes, an Ijamsville resident, has been applying public pressure for months to allow Frederick County Public Schools’ students to participate in sports, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the fact that most learning is occurring virtually right now.
Along with Walkersville resident Cathy McDonough, Howes started a Facebook group called “FCPS MD H.S. Parents Unite to Bring Back Fall Sports” that attracted more than 1,000 members.
Hogan appeared to give them some real hope when he announced, alongside State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon, that high school sports could resume with health protocols in place during a Sept. 24 visit to Frederick.
Under Hogan’s plan, fall sports practices could have begun as early as Wednesday across the state with the aim of starting competitions Oct. 27. So far, only Washington, Garrett and Allegany counties had signed on to do it.
The Frederick County Board of Education shut down that possibility with a 7-0 vote Wednesday to accept the FCPS Return to Play committee’s recommendation that the school system stay with the second-semester plan put forth by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.
That plan calls for the the fall, winter and spring sports seasons to be played in three, five-week increments between February and mid-June.
FCPS supervisor of athletics and extracurricular activities Kevin Kendro said the school system would push to move-up the start date for the second-semester plan, which would allow each of the seasons to be extended without overlapping each other.
But that would require an approval from the State Board of Education that has not yet been granted.
Kendro is hopeful that practices could begin in December with games and competitions to follow in January.
“We want to get our student-athletes back on the court as soon as possible,” he said. “But safety is going to be our biggest priority.”
Parents hoping for an earlier return of high school sports cited what is already happening in neighboring states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia and accused FCPS and the Board of Education of not doing enough to help facilitate their return.
“I think everyone should be able to make their own decisions when it comes to risk tolerance,” said Anthony Masters, whose daughter, Lula, is a sophomore athlete at Urbana High School. “I am about allowing choice. Don’t rule out everybody.”
Under guidance from the Return to Play Committee, FCPS allowed voluntary, non-contact conditioning and skills-based workouts to occur over the summer and into the school year.
Fall-sports athletes participated from Aug. 31 to Sept. 25. Spring-sports athletes began their workouts on Sept. 28 and will conclude Oct. 23. Then, winter-sports athletes will get their chance from Oct. 26 to Nov. 20.
But even with strict health protocols in place, Kendro disclosed at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting that nine students and four coaches had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Additionally, four other coaches were exhibiting COVID-19-like symptoms.
A total of 54 students and two coaches participating in Return to Play activities were forced to quarantine. Some workouts had to be shut down due to concerns of an outbreak, and one spring sports team had to delay the start of its workouts due to an outbreak on a club-sports team.
“Our commitment to safety to all athletic stake holders drove all of our decision-making,” Kendro said. “Safety was always going to be our top priority. Nothing has really changed that.”
Some parents were willing to sign liability waivers to allow their kids to participate in high school sports and pitch in to help kids who didn’t have their own rides to games and practices.
“It feels like they are taking the easy way out,” Howes said, referencing FCPS and the Board of Education. “They don’t want to do the work to make [high school sports] work.”
Howes’ son, Kyle, was supposed to be entering his fourth season as the starting quarterback for Urbana High School’s football team this fall.
His previous play was good enough to attract the interest from five Division I colleges, Kim Howes said. But the interest has since dried up because there are no games due the pandemic.
She said her son has been playing football since he was 4 years old, and it is his dream to play the sport in college.
“I am not going to let them take everything away from my kid,” Howes said. “This is his future they are stripping away from him.”
Kendro pledged that FCPS coaches will still assist their athletes in securing college scholarships.
But, in lieu of there being no games at the moment, that wasn’t good enough for some parents to hear.
Howes said she would be contacting an attorney and exploring any possible recourse to force the start of the season.
“If they feel like the fight is over, it’s not,” she said.
Follow Greg Swatek on Twitter: @greg_swatek