Chatter rose across the Calvert playing fields Monday afternoon. The Cavaliers' field hockey team was hosting La Plata in a regular-season game, and their football and soccer teams ran through multiple drills. Whistles sounded. Coaches yelled and applauded. Players worked hard, ran fast and laughed a lot.
Each sound was treasured by the parents and administrators who gathered to watch, and protect, the athletes.
While most jurisdictions around the Washington area continue to postpone outdoor activities in the wake of the sniper attacks that have claimed the lives of nine people and injured two others, teams across the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference were back to full schedules by Tuesday.
"I think things being back to normal takes their minds off everything that is going on, and that's good to see," Calvert football coach Brad Criss said. "I told the kids just not to take the weight of the world on their shoulders. We'll play with whatever restrictions are upon us, and I feel the administration is going to be able to protect us if we go outside. We've had state troopers around basically all the time."
Security at games across the region has been bolstered, with the presence of additional teachers, administrators and police officers. At Chopticon, for example, Athletic Director Richard O'Donnell hired eight police officers for Tuesday's makeup football game against county rival Great Mills. Chopticon normally employs four officers for its games.
"We went with double the amount," O'Donnell said. "There were people out on the road and stationed behind the school. It's a shame you have to do that, but in this day you have to. It's precaution."
Even with the SMAC playing its games (which remains subject to change if the sniper attacks continue), the playoff picture is unclear. Play in Prince George's and Montgomery counties has been suspended indefinitely, leaving the state's postseason situation jumbled.
The golf state championship, which was scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at the University of Maryland, has been reduced to a one-day format and pushed back to Oct. 28 at Clustered Spires in Frederick.
Playoffs for field hockey (set to begin Tuesday) and boys' and girls' soccer (Friday) are scheduled to begin next week, but the format may be altered if some teams do not participate. The cross-country's regional meet is scheduled for Oct. 31, and the volleyball regional playoffs are set to open Nov. 1.
"We are pretty much locked into the dates," said Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. "Golf we had time to reschedule, but with facilities and dates, we have to have the playoffs as planned.
"We are going to . . . see what happens. We could get situations where teams don't come. If that happens, there might be some byes, or it might be a fractured tournament. You have 80 percent of the schools in the state playing, and the other 20 to 25 percent, for good reason, are not. And who knows? If this thing spreads, it could be worse. There are a lot more important things than playing high school sports games."
In a normal season, teams must complete a required number of games (nine) to be eligible for postseason play. Sparks said that this season, those standards will be waived. That should prove an easy adjustment for sports with an open-playoff format such as field hockey, soccer and volleyball, in which all teams -- regardless of record -- qualify for the regional tournament.
The football playoffs are far more complicated. Only eight football teams from each region advance to the state tournament. Those eight berths are determined by a complex point system that rewards teams not only for winning but for beating quality opponents. Sparks said he is unsure how the formula will be adjusted to compensate for teams having played different numbers of games.
"We are going to make accommodations for teams to get in," Sparks said. "Whether or not everyone gets in, I don't know. Nothing will be perfect. If a football team winds up playing six or seven games, you will have to try and figure out how that compares with a team that has played 10 games. I don't know how we will sort that out."
Staff writer Todd Jacobson contributed to this report.