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Gov. Phil Murphy extended social distancing measures related to New Jersey schools during his daily public briefing on Thursday, announcing that all schools would remain closed until at least May 15.

Cases of COVID-19 have continued to rise in New Jersey with 75,317 cases and 3,418 virus-related deaths through Thursday afternoon, according to New Jersey officials.

"I will be the happiest guy in New Jersey, maybe America if not the planet to be able to have a very different message (on May 15)," Murphy said during his briefing. "I've gotten a lot of incomings from parents of kids who are particularly sports-oriented, not surprisingly of seniors in high school whether it's related to sports, academics, seeing their friends, graduating ceremonies; I have nothing but complete sympathy. Please know that we're not in any way, shape or form trying to be Dr. No here. Nothing would give me more joy than to be able to say we're ready to go, but we're just not there. If we all continue to stay the course for the next four weeks we may well have a different message at that point. It's up to all of us to stay at it."

The inevitability of schools not reopening this academic year remain strong, but there is also the glimmer of hope for a semblance of a spring high school sports season. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association has been brainstorming potential return-to-play plans in the event schools were reopened. On Friday, April 10, the NJSIAA announced it would not extend the season into the summer – as some had expressed interest in and even petitioned for – and set June 30 as the last possible day for a spring season. It also set Memorial Day as the deadline for the start of the season in order to conduct state sectional tournaments. If the season were to begin after May 25 there would be no state tournament but conferences and leagues could hold tournaments with all play ending on or before June 30.

“The return-to-school date and related public health guidelines will continue to determine the viability of a spring sports season," the NJSIAA said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "As noted, NJSIAA is committed to doing whatever is possible to provide New Jersey’s student-athletes with some type of spring season. We have models in place that allow for competition starting as late as May 25, but given the late start date, tournament play may not be viable.  Our commitment to conclude the spring season, no later than June 30 stands. As the governor noted, we remain hopeful.”

As is the case at the start of any athletic season, athletes would be required to practice six times with one day of rest before being eligible to participate in a regular-season game. Scrimmages would count toward the practice tally, but only after three practices have been completed. This applies to all spring sports except boys and girls golf, which the NJSIAA considers non-strenuous sports.

"Based on Governor Murphy's announcement today it still leaves some hope and optimism," said Shore Conference President and Middletown School District athletic director Rich Carroll. "At this point, if we were allowed to return it's my belief that all play should be kept at the local level and forego state tournaments for this spring. The Shore Conference has many great minds that have discussed all possibilities of what a potential season would look like based on the time constraints. We would most likely formulate division schedules and award champions that way. Unfortunately, we still have far more questions than answers."


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

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