Montgomery County Council to reconsider high school sports plans this week

A few days after putting in place new COVID-19 regulations that continue some virus-related restrictions, council members in Maryland’s Montgomery County said Tuesday they plan to go back to the drawing board on rules for youth sports and could vote on new regulations by the end of the week.

The change in plans comes after pushback by the community. On Sunday, about 200 coaches, parents and athletes rallied in Rockville asking for a change.

Under the rules approved by the Montgomery County Council last week, sports remain categorized as low-, medium- and high-risk. In addition, capacity limits on indoor sporting events are capped at 25 people — including players, coaches and bystanders. Capacity limits on outdoor sporting events are capped at 50 people.

As a result of the county’s newly-approved regulations, Montgomery County Public Schools officials said in an update on school athletics that football and cheerleading would remain restricted.

While organizers of events can seek a waiver from the county to hold larger events, council members also expressed concerns that not all sports were being treated fairly, after an amendment, narrowly approved last week, lifted the capacity limits on non-contact youth hockey games to 10% of an ice rink’s capacity.

At-Large Council member Will Jawando said, “We should be treating all sports equitably,” saying the decision last week to ease the restriction on ice hockey and not other sports was a “fumble.”

At-large Council member Evan Glass, who introduced the ice hockey amendment, said he agreed with the need for “more fair and equitable framework.”

“I want to work collaboratively with everybody, so that we can get football players back on the field, we can get cheerleaders on the sides, we can get basketball players on the court and — whatever other sports we identify and in the venues where those sports are played — make sure we have a thoughtful and thorough policy in place,” Glass said.

It’s unclear what exactly the new rules will look like, but council members discussed doing away with categorizing sports by risk level entirely.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, urged “extreme caution,” noting school sports have led to coronavirus outbreaks at other Maryland schools.

Gayles said at a minimum all youth players should be required to wear masks.

Other protocols discussed included robust testing and contact tracing efforts.

At-Large Council member Hans Riemer said the mask requirement is essential.

“I think that’s really an crucial element and the science on masking is crystal clear,” he said.

He said if the council acts by Friday, “then our teams could have practice on Saturday.”

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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