Maryland approves new early start high school winter athletics

HYATTSVILLE – Maryland public school student-athletes playing winter sports can start training on Dec. 7, a full two months earlier than planned. 

The Maryland State Board of Education recently announced the decision following a 13-0 vote to bring students and staff back to school buildings for in-person instructions. 

The revised schedule changes include moving up the first practice date and starting the official competition on Jan. 4. The last play date for the regular season moves up as well to Feb. 27. Any state tournament or event would take place in March. 

According to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA), the authorization comes with the request that all local school systems are “strongly encouraged to start conditioning opportunities immediately.” Winter sports include basketball, swimming and diving, indoor track and wrestling. 

Districts that began playing in the fall after Gov. Larry Hogan’s order to reintroduce athletics on Sept. 24 may continue their seasons until Dec. 12 while conditioning for winter sports begin. 

Each local school district makes the final call if their student-athletes can return for official competition. After Hogan’s order, 15 counties have begun in-person practices. Six other districts, including Montgomery and Prince George’s, elected not to allow in-person workouts but provide virtual-only sessions. 

However, things may change in the state’s largest school district. In a letter to parents, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) said they would review the newly revised calendar and “provide recommendations to MCPS leadership for review and consideration.” 

Montgomery County officials have been adamant since the start of the school year to not restarting athletics during the pandemic despite receiving a letter from its football coaches association to allow student-athletes to start in-person conditioning. 

Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) declined to comment following Hogan’s order and have not spoken publicly about the new schedule change. During a July press conference, CEO Monica Goldson said that the school district would not restart any interscholastic activities during the virtual learning phase.

The request to move up the February start date to December was a part of a memo to the state education board from State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon’s office with a letter of support from all the local supervisors of athletics, including Prince George’s. 

No overlapping between the sports seasons and limiting facility conflicts were the main features of the supervisors’ support for the change. 

“We understand not all counties may be able to begin operations in those seasons at the same time,” the letter stated. “However, we feel having multiple options will further diminish the quality of what will be offered in each scenario and exacerbate inequities across the state.”

Meanwhile, Maryland’s private schools restarted play. The Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) and the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland (IAAM) said in a joint statement on Oct. 12 that they will operate in an open schedule format this year. 

The structure means that the leagues will not provide a calendar of competition, but member schools can determine their own schedule “within the comfort level determined by each school.”

Another interscholastic league, the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC), is set to return with their fall sports slate in January. Commissioner Stephen Colantuoni told The Sports Pulse in September that while Maryland is restarting interscholastic athletics, restrictions for its member schools in Virginia and D.C. keep their student-athletes off the field.  

The WCAC will formulate a plan if their Maryland schools want to start athletics early among themselves, Colantuoni said. The four-member schools include DeMatha (Hyattsville), Elizabeth Seton (Bladensburg), Bishop McNamara (Forestville), and Our Lady of Good Counsel (Olney). 

“If and when we get to that point, what’s it going to look like when we put kids on the field and parents in [the] stands and that type of situation,” Colantuoni said. “We are meeting, trying to make plans to move forward with it; it’s just a matter of being able to open things up and go forward.”

Brooks Warren contributed to this report 

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