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Milford School District votes unanimously to allow fall sports

Practices and pre-season games for soccer, cross country, football and field hockey, which will play shortened seasons, can begin on Monday.

Milford School District Board of Education voted six to zero Monday night to allow fall sports.

Practices and pre-season games for soccer, cross country, football and field hockey, which will all play shortened seasons, can begin on Monday, Sept. 28. All the seasons will end in December.

During the meeting, parents argued that students needed to be playing and be together, not glued to computer or television screens. Parents and coaches argued that if Milford didn’t allow sport, students would leave the system to go to one that did allow sports.

“This is about what is doing what is best for our kids,” Sherry Geesaman said during the meeting’s public comment section. “Getting our kids back out on the field and playing is absolutely the best thing for our kids. Not being in the classroom is not best for our kids. Getting 90 minutes of your core education each day is not best for our kids. Not being with classmates is not best for our kids.”

All Delaware school districts will be dealing with the same issue, because a cascade of events at state level puts the issue back in their laps.

In August, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association cited state rules that said sports were not safe and pushed fall sports into seasons between winter and springs sports.

Then this month, the Delaware Division of Public Health reversed its stand against playing sports by issuing guidelines for playing fall sports that included masks for all athletes, even football players and wrestlers. Gov. John Carney, who had been saying he couldn’t imagine how kids could play football with masks and safety precautions, then urged the DIAA to reconsider its rules. DIAA did, voting for shortened seasons.

But that sent the issue to the Delaware Department of Education Board, who on Sept. 17 voted 4-3 to allow fall sports. The hours-long discussion often focused on issues of equity. They included why the board should allow sports, but not allow other student activities such as marching band, choirs, theatre and various clubs. They also included what would happen if one system decided to allow sports and another didn’t. Several board members and speakers referred to six districts already saying they would not play sports.

The board’s decisions means individual districts have to decide whether to offer fall sports.

While Geesaman supported sports in Milford, she supported a lot more: “I am all for kids playing sports but we need them back in the classroom as soon as possible.”

Jack Frederick, the parent of four Milford School District students, said he was concerned that if Milford voted not to have sports, students would transfer to neighboring districts that did choose to play this fall. He believed that the ripple effect could last for years.

Milford High athletics director Ryan Winkleblech told the board that the school did have practices over the summer for five different teams.

“We followed a process, we had a check list and we did temperature checks,” Winkleblech said. “We documented all the information and I must submit that at the end of each week.

“Our kids are rising to the occasion. They are taking this seriously. We have scheduled our volleyball, soccer and field hockey games so that we can avoid having more than two competitions at one site.”

Cross country head coach Lance Skinner, who is also president of Milford Little League, said his organization was the only one south of Middletown to hold games over the summer.

“It went off without a hitch,” Skinner said. “Everyone took it seriously. Everyone followed the guidelines and it went fine. All the kids who have returned for cross country are very excited, but they are taking it all seriously.

“They are wearing masks, they are dealing with the pre-practice check-ins. They are social distancing. As they enter the field, the must use hand sanitizer and wear a mask. Once the race starts, they can remove the mask, but it must be placed back on as they leave the track.”

Andrea McPike, the Buccaneers’ field hockey coach, agreed with Skinner. Each girl is compliant no matter what is asked of them, McPike stated. They arrive 30 minutes before practice with masks on. The girls must respond to the same checklist as other sports and have their temperature checked.

“There is a fence around the field that has poles that are eight feet apart,” McPike said. “Each girl is assigned one of those poles where they place all their gear. They must use hand sanitizer as they enter the field. During practice, they are required to wear masks.

“We take a short break where the girls can go to the pole, get a drink of water from a bottle they bring themselves. We sanitize the ball if it is touched. We wipe down cones. The girls are not hesitating to do anything we ask so that they can play field hockey.”

Todd French, who has been coaching soccer at Milford for over 13 years, supported Frederick’s concerns that if Milford did not have fall sports, students would leave the district for those who did have them.

“I have 13 very talented seniors,” French said. “They have been looking forward to this season for a long time and they knew that if they slipped up and did not do the right thing, they could cost the whole team and possibly the school. They felt like they should lead the way.

“I am concerned that if we decide not to have fall sports, I will have to push some of my very talented kids to another school. These kids have college scholarships on the line. That is just how it is in sports and I would hate to see that happen.”

Board member Jean Wylie asked about transportation to and from games.

Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson explained that each bus was limited to 25 students and that drivers would follow the same protocols as they did for summer school. One of the DIAA board members said during their meeting this month that the sports groups need to push the Department of Public Health to change the bus rules for sports teams.

Athletics director Winkleblech said some teams may need to take two buses. Dickerson said spectators are limited to no more than one per student and that he expected that would remain throughout the season.

“As it is, we can only have 250 people if we get that approved by the state like we did for graduation,” Dickerson said. “We are looking at this as a conference because we want it to be uniform. If there are changes, we will keep the board informed.”