NIAA pushes sports to 2021
Minutes before addressing his team, Churchill County High School football coach Brooke Hill felt relieved.
His team will still have a season, but it won’t start until February after the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association announced on Thursday that fall sports would be pushed to 2021, while winter sports will start almost two months later.
“It’s definitely good news,” Hill said. “Obviously, we’re glad to have a plan. We were seven days away from starting and not knowing what to do.”
The Greenwave has been working out twice a week under the county’s pandemic plan in preparation for the season to start next week with the heat acclimation period.
Along with the football program, cross country, tennis, soccer, girls golf and volleyball will begin their practices in February at the tail-end of the winter sports season, which now starts in January.
The spring sports season will start in April. Each season will include six weeks of competition, including league or regional postseason, but state championships for all sports, for now, will not happen. Fallon, which competes in the state’s second-largest class (3A), fields teams in all fall sports while Oasis Academy, which competes in the 1A, competes in girls golf, cross country and volleyball.
The Bighorns made their first-ever appearance in state competition last fall when then-senior Savannah Robinson ran in the 1A state cross country meet. Oasis Academy senior Sadie O’Flaherty, who competes in multiple sports, felt frustration about the truncated seasons was pleased to see that they will not overlap. She also understood the decision and is hopeful that all student-athletes will get to player their sport.
“When I heard the news about sports being delayed, I was frustrated that I wouldn’t get to experience a traditional senior year sports season. Nonetheless, I believe this is the best approach to take,” said O’Flaherty, who competes in volleyball, basketball and lacrosse. “I believe these measures are necessary for slowing the spread of COVID-19, and I am happy that the solution allows every athlete to have a season. As a senior, it is disappointing to me that I won’t be able to experience a ‘normal’ senior sports season. However, I believe it is important to take measures now so that the future seniors can experience a normal, fun and full-length sports season.”
During the past two weeks, several developments have occurred in Nevada and its neighboring states.
Earlier this week, Clark County School District approved to begin the school year with distance learning. On Thursday, Washoe County’s health department recommended its county school district begin the year with distance learning, as well. Also, this week, California announced it would push the fall sports season out by three months after its governor said that most of the state would begin classes online.
The NIAA stressed multiple times during the past spring season sports cannot happen until students have resumed classes on campus. The season was cut short only two weeks into competition and never resumed. Instead of the heat acclimation period starting on July 30, Hill’s instincts now are for his program to focus on switching from conditioning to getting stronger in the weight room. With the state currently in Phase 2 of its reopening plan, football would need to wait until at least Phase 3 – most likely Phase 4 – to have games.
The NIAA said holding practices and competitions are subject to government directive, orders from state and local health departments, the restrictions associated with the phase of reopening in place at the time, and local district and school mandates.
The new schedule allows the state four months to drive down the COVID-19 positivity rate and progress into the following phases that would allow all sports to have games to be played in front of spectators. In addition to protecting the teams, the postponed start gives time for schools and the NIAA to plan modifying the atmosphere to allow for fans and officials to attend safely. Fallon girls basketball coach Kevin Wickware is curious about the approach regarding officials and keeping them safe during the season.
“As long as we’re taking every caution for everybody, that’s the best we can do,” he said. “As long as we’re taking steps necessary to protect people, we’re moving in the right direction. I’ll be interested to see what they will be able to do.”
The announcement also provides a sigh of relief for Hill and Wickware and coaches who are also educators. Hill, who teaches history at the high school, can focus on preparing for the adjustment of the new school year without having to worry about getting his team ready for the first game of the season. Wickware, who teaches at Numa Elementary School, also sees the benefit of focusing on getting back to the classroom first.
“I’m glad they made a decision and coaches can make a plan moving forward,” said Wickware, who’s been holding twice-a-week workouts this summer. “The NIAA is in a no-win situation and they’re not going to make anyone happen. Sports are very important, but my first thing is getting ready for school. It’s a relief we have an answer.”
Having the fall season beginning toward the end of winter presents challenges, depending on the sport. Football practices will begin on Feb. 13 and the rest will follow a week later on Feb. 20. Games are allowed to begin on March 5 but the season must conclude by April 10.
For football, Hill doesn’t see the wintry weather affecting his program any differently than when the normal season would start off with the summer heat before playing in freezing conditions, like the last two state championships in late November. Prepping the field after a snowstorm could hamper things, especially if Fallon played teams in the Reno-Tahoe area.
For the other sports, though, the weather may have a bigger impact. Tennis, cross country and girls golf may not be able to have a complete season if the conditions are unfavorable. Soccer, like football, may be able to adjust to the weather. Volleyball is the only indoor fall sport; however, it will be competing with the club season, which runs from January through May.
The winter season, which was scheduled to start in November, will now begin with practices on Jan. 2 followed by games between Jan. 15 and Feb. 20.
Fallon wrestling coach Trevor de Braga is concerned how the abbreviated season will affect not just his program but the entire wrestling landscape. With the season normally beginning in mid-November, wrestlers have about four to six weeks to get into shape before competing in the bigger tournaments, like Reno Tournament of Champions and Sierra Nevada Classic. By the time 3A league duals hit the mat, wrestlers already have about 10 weeks of practices and competition under their belt.
“We only get a few weeks to get in shape. It takes about four weeks to get into descent shape to really last a full six minutes on the mat,” de Braga said. “I’m interested to see if there will be tournaments and what the restrictions are as far as contacts during the six weeks.”
The possibility of no state tournaments could hurt the Greenwave wrestling program.
“These kids are being taken away from a chance to win a state title,” de Braga said. “Our numbers, already, have been low since I’ve been head coach and I feel now they may be even lower with kids knowing they won’t have a chance to win a state title. Wrestling is tough and with no state title to reach for, they may shy away from being on the team.”
The spring season begins April 3 with practices and games from April 16 to May 22.
The NIAA said during the spring that the season will not extend past mid-May because of graduation. Hill appreciated that multi-sport student-athletes were considered in the NIAA’s plan.
Instead of seasons happening concurrently, which would have affected the smaller schools, there’s, at most, a one-week overlap with competitions and practices.
“It’s good to show some understanding of the smaller communities,” Hill said. “We have so many two, three-sport athletes who were going to have to make that choice (of choosing one sport over the other). It was a good decision.”
In addition to the new schedule, teams can still have workouts between now and the end of the year. Out-of-season regulations, which are traditionally in place during the summer, would apply. For example, coaches can still conduct workouts during the new offseason, but they cannot require players to attend. NIAA-member schools and their districts have the option to participate in sanctioned sports.
Each class, region and/or league will oversee playoff considerations, and the postseason cannot extend past the season’s cutoff date.