Polk County seniors Wesley Royster (3) and Tyler Staley will return to the court this week

PolkNotes: COVID impact on state prep sports continues to grow

Stories of COVID-19 impacting high school athletics in North Carolina are now becoming an everyday occurrence.

Consider the past week and some of the coverage around the state:

Unlike Polk County, which had to opt out of seeding for the playoffs due to a positive test in the program, North Stanly didn’t learn of its issue until after seeding, giving Rosman a free pass into the second round.

  • The Carolinas Classic All-Star Basketball Games, which match the top players from North and South Carolina, were canceled.

The district did opt to let volleyball and cross country teams complete playoff competition. But the decision means swimmers and divers will lose the rest of their seasons, with boys soccer and lacrosse teams potentially losing about half of their upcoming regular seasons.

The ruling also means CMS football teams will be forced to miss the first official week of practice.

All that in a week. Don’t expect the days ahead to be much better.

One interesting result of this is that I’m hearing more and more coaches talk about the importance of having their players adhere to all safety protocols. I recently heard one area football coach say that talent may not be the key to success this spring, but “dependability.” Coaches across the state are beginning to stress to players that following protocols on and off the field are requirements for participation.

With COVID-related positive cases and fatalities rising to record heights daily, high school athletics certainly are not a primary concern. But until those broader concerns are addressed, expect to see more weeks like the last one.

REALIGNMENT UPDATE: The second draft of the NCHSAA’s realignment plan for the 2021-2025 season included a couple of changes directly impacting Polk County.

The NCHSAA listened to Rosman’s appeals and moved the Tigers out of the proposed new 2A/1A league that will house Polk County. Rosman now moves into what likely will remain the Western Highlands Conference, joining the five remaining schools plus Draughn.

Rosman’s move also meant a move for Thomas Jefferson, and the NCHSAA shuffled the Gryphons into a 2A/1A league that includes schools in Cleveland and Gaston counties. There’s no love lost between Thomas Jefferson and the three public schools in Rutherford County, so no doubt that decision was a popular one on the campuses of Chase, East Rutherford and R-S Central.

Most interesting to me was the move of Patton to the new conference with Polk. Patton previously was placed in a group with the other WHC schools and Draughn. The various moves leave that conference, as well as the Polk County conference, each with seven teams.

The fact the NCHSAA created two seven-team leagues, rather than an eight-team WHC and Polk in a six-team 2A league, makes one think Patton preferred not to join the mountain-based conference. Or perhaps the NCHSAA decided a league stretching from Rosman to Morganton was simply too broad.

Either way, with the 1A schools gone, Polk County is now the smallest school in the proposed conference. Here are the average daily membership numbers for each school from the 2019-2020 school year:

R-S Central: 845
Patton: 834
Brevard: 791
East Rutherford: 766
Hendersonville: 745
Chase: 722
Polk County: 614

The 2A/1A league in which Thomas Jefferson is now placed includes Hunter Huss, which at 1,040 students is almost three times larger than Thomas Jefferson’s 355. It will be interesting to see if the Gryphons appeal their new placement.

Those written appeals are due this week, and we’ll get the third draft of the realignment on Feb. 4. Historically, there’s not a lot of movement after the second draft, but this year’s realignment has been anything but typical.

Polk County Middle head coach Michelle Fagan has led the Wolverines to a 4-0 start

MIDDLE SCHOOL HOOP SHOWDOWN: The eyes of the Blue Ridge Conference will be on Polk County Middle on Tuesday as the Wolverine girls host Rugby in a matchup of unbeaten teams.

Rugby has been blowing past opponents thus far this season, its closest game a 46-25 win over Apple Valley. Polk Middle has been nearly as dominant, but did have a narrow 21-19 win over Hendersonville Middle. Rugby topped Hendersonville 46-15.

Mia Bradley’s 9.8 points per game leads the Polk Middle offense, but the Wolverines have relied on a balanced attack and an aggressive defense all season. It will be interesting to see how that fares against Rugby.

Polk Middle will stream the game via YouTube beginning at 4:30 p.m.

BASKETBALL, RESUMED: After a week away due largely to final exams, Polk County’s basketball teams are scheduled to be back in action this week.

The Wolverines are scheduled to travel Monday to Owen for a Western Highlands Conference matchup. It will mark the first game of the season for Polk’s girls after their season opener with East Rutherford was postponed for COVID-19 reasons.

Polk’s boys will look to follow up on their season-opening win. Owen dropped its first two games, at Pisgah and Haywood Christian Academy, but rebounded with an 81-76 win on Friday over Mitchell.

Owen senior Dequan Boyce had 39 points in that victory as the Warhorses rallied from a five-point deficit entering the quarter.

One player not on the Warhorse roster is Jayden Harper. The son of former NBA player Ron Harper, the younger Harper averaged 14 points, three rebounds and three steals per game as a freshman last season. He has signed with a management firm, East West Private, in Cincinnati and is now playing at Bishop Alemany High School in California.