Montgomery County Public Schools, the largest school district in Maryland, announced Tuesday the cancellation of fall and winter sports for the coming academic year as it moves to at-home learning for the entirety of the first semester.

As school districts across the Washington area weigh options for holding high school athletics amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Montgomery County is the first to definitively cancel both fall and winter sports. Superintendent Jack R. Smith announced in a statement that all learning will take place virtually until Jan. 29 — or until local health officials determine it is safe to return.

“This decision includes the cancellation of fall and winter sports,” Smith said in the statement.

The plan will be reassessed in November for the second semester, leaving open the possibility that the county’s 25 high schools could play spring sports. Before Tuesday’s decision, fall practices were set to begin Aug. 12.

MCPS Director of Athletics Jeffrey K. Sullivan declined to comment, adding only that he will address reporters Wednesday in a virtual news conference.

Northwest wide receiver Kaden Prather had just finished a long afternoon of running routes at his local middle school when he got word that his senior season was officially canceled.

“It’s just a bummer,” Prather said. “Not just because I love football but because my friends and I needed our senior year. … The numbers are really crazy so I guess I don’t blame them, but I don’t know. I really don’t know what they’re supposed to do.”

While fall athletes such as Prather have known for a while that their season was in jeopardy, it was the county’s decision to include winter sports that took many players and coaches by surprise.

“I’m shocked,” Gaithersburg boys’ basketball coach Jeff Holda said. “I figured that [there would be] a decision in November or December on whether or not we could have some kind of condensed season … I assumed that late December, early January we’d have something for our kids. So just to swing the sword and cancel it this way — I never saw this coming.”

While the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association canceled sports across the state this spring, its plan for reopening athletic activities this fall stressed the importance of local school systems making a decision that is best for each particular area. Anne Arundel County, Howard County and Prince George’s County are among the other districts that have already announced they will hold their first semesters virtually. But Montgomery is the first to include a definitive cancellation of fall sports in its decision.

Private schools in the county typically follow the lead of MCPS but are not bound by its edicts. Most schools will follow the direction of their respective leagues, few of which have announced plans yet.

If there are private schools playing basketball come November, it could spur a flurry of player movement. With the option to play basketball elsewhere on the table, Holda anticipates an exodus of talent from Montgomery County.

“This is unprecedented in that regard,” Holda said. “It’s a can of worms that we’re opening. It’s already difficult to keep kids from going private, and this will just add more pressure.”

Beyond Maryland, the decision to take away winter sports has not yet been broached. The Virginia High School League will decide among three modified sports calendars next week, none of which eliminate the winter sports season. The D.C. State Athletic Association postponed its fall sports season earlier this month, electing to play winter sports in January, followed by fall and spring seasons.

“I thought [cancellation] could be a possibility but hoped they might take this the same pathway as the other states and counties in a wait-and-see approach,” Bethesda-Chevy Chase girls’ basketball coach Ryan Ingalls said. “I’m frustrated that they couldn’t delay the season by a month or something along those lines. For it to be completely shut down, that’s tough to hear.”

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