The West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District will cancel the fall interscholastic sports season, superintendent David Aderhold announced in a statement Aug. 6.

All varsity, sub-varsity and middle school sports are affected, as well as marching band. Aderhold said the decision was made based on three factors: health, social and emotional welfare and financial implications. WW-P is the first Mercer County school district to cancel the fall sports season.

“As the news continues to report stories of athletes who have tested positive for COVID-19 or teams that have quarantined due to outbreaks, there is no return to normalcy,” Aderhold said. “Professional and collegiate athletic programs must endure changing conditions such as daily COVID-19 testing, altered living arrangements, and constantly shifting schedules due to the cancellation of games. These teams have access to resources that far exceed our local school districts, and yet we pretend that school districts can pull off our seasons simply because we desire the return to normalcy.”

All WW-P fall varsity head coaches and marching band directors will provide virtual lessons, the statement said. These will include virtual workouts and social and emotional support throughout the fall season.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association previously announced mid-July that the upcoming school sports season would be delayed by one month. Teams were permitted to begin workouts July 13 and continue through Aug. 28, followed by a mandatory two-week break. Team practices for participating schools are set to begin Sept. 14.

The NJSIAA also released a “Return to Play” model that outlined what the season would look like under the delay, including regular season and postseason start and end dates.

Athletes from around the state participated in tournaments and one-off games after the 2020 school year ended, and other outdoor activities became more common as summer began. But, said Aderhold, those activities have ostensibly led to a statewide rise in the COVID-19 transmission rate—0.8 on June 26 to 1.32 on Aug. 6.

“Nationally, there have been serious concerns as high school sports geared up for the return to playing fields,” Aderhold said. “There have been tournament cancellations, postponement or suspension of seasons and the pause of voluntary workouts for both collegiate and high school programs due to suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases. At the cornerstone of WW-P’s reopening planning is the safety, health, and wellness of our students and our staff.”

The district’s reopening plan already banned in-person after-school clubs and activities, as well as weekend events. Locker rooms are also closed. Aderhold said other logistical challenges, like early-dismissal schedules, would be difficult to overcome. He also cited mask recommendations, saying that athletes would “inevitably” play without wearing a face covering.

“There is an inherent risk in bringing athletes, fans and coaches from other districts or the risk that another district may experience as we bring our students, coaches, and fans to their school community,” Aderhold said. “Unfortunately, these risks could completely invalidate all our efforts to keep our school community safe and our schools open.”

Aderhold said the district has already spent $3 million since the start of the pandemic—covering technology, safety measures, personal protective equipment and instructional materials. Additional athletics-related costs would include increased transportation routes, socially-distanced practices, attendance restrictions and enhanced after-hours cleaning protocols.

“At this time, a return to competition places our student athletes, coaches, musicians, band directors, parents, spectators, officials and referees at risk,” Aderhold said. “This decision is painful, but it is the necessary decision to protect our school community and athletes. While I have championed the importance of athletics and fought for changes to the rules of the NJSIAA to ensure increased participation of our students, at this time, safety is our top priority.”