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High School Sports Ready to Take the Field…in Stages

26 May, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

With many states starting the reopening process, high school sports may be on the way back as well, at least in certain areas. There doesn’t seem to be much consistency, though, with some states concentrating on traditional spring sports, like softball and baseball, while others are going straight to football.

According to Athletic Business, “Even as state high school athletic associations across the country shut down their operations for the rest of the academic year, and despite a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services report indicating that the coronavirus pandemic could span 18 months, some states are holding onto hope that at least part of their spring sports seasons can be salvaged.”

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds approved the restart of school activities in the Hawkeye State. According to Sport Techie, that could mean high school baseball and softball players will return to group practices as soon as June 1, with games beginning on June 15. 

In Pennsylvania, the PIAA board of directors gave its unanimous support to a proposal for having a county-by-county approach to restarting high school sports, once the governor gives his approval. If that approval comes soon, some schools might resume workouts as early as next month.

Multiple other states will start, and many will be using a phased-in approach. Oklahoma is one of these and The Oklahoman detailed the various steps of the plan. For example, on June 1, Oklahoma State Secondary School Athletic Association (OSSAA) member school coaches may have face-to-face contact with secondary level students using special provisions. No practice or activity-specific instruction, or camps, clinics or leagues may be conducted. Strength and conditioning is permitted. Between June 29 and July 31, activity-specific instruction could begin, although social distancing would be observed. Intrasquad scrimmages will be allowed and tryouts will be permitted. On July 15, unrestricted practice may begin for band, cross country, fall baseball, fastpitch softball and volleyball. As of August 1, practice could resume for band, cross country, fall baseball, fastpitch softball and volleyball.

Some programs might be able to skip over tryouts since some organizations have offered virtual tryouts for cheer quads, dance teams, hockey players, band members and more.

In many states, additional precautions will be taken. Reopening guidelines for summer sports from the Iowa Department of Education include checking temperatures before training, avoiding the use of dugouts during practices, and adding extra spacing between players during drills. Concessions stands will stay closed at games, and fans will be encouraged to practice social distancing.

Some venues are assisting with the effort to keep players safe. Indiana's Grand Park says it has been hosting small groups with limited person-to-person interaction. The Indiana Soccer Association, meanwhile, has sent out safe play guidelines. 

Some systems, lobbying for early start dates, encountered pushback. The Georgia High School Association’s executive director Robin Hines originally proposed a June 1 restart date, but that was met by opposition from some board members who thought that was too soon. At one point several board members asked if that date could be pushed back and Hines responded, “you can push it back to July 1 if you want.” As it was, the group settled on a restart date for football-related activtities of June 8.

According to the report, the GHSA’s decision followed by less than 24 hours the NCAA’s decision to allow conferences and individual institutions the go-ahead to vote on voluntary on-campus June activities for football players plus men’s and women’s basketball players.

The Idaho Statesman reported that leaders of the 5A and 4A Southern Idaho Conference had unveiled plans for high school student athletes to return to gyms, baseball diamonds and football fields this summer. The plan was developed in consultation with the Central and Southwest public health districts. It encourages keeping athletes in the same practice groups, social distancing of six feet and disinfecting surfaces and objects regularly through all phases.

States are increasingly looking to the recently announced reopening guidelines promulgated by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

In some cases, there are bugs (so to speak) that will need to be worked out. In Arkansas, an article in the Sentinel-Herald quoted Lake Hamilton athletic director Rick Waters as saying he thought the guidelines for safety were good, but that he was concerned about enforcing some of them.

"You can tell them not to drink after each other, but Joe over here might have the flu, and there'll be 10 people drink out his Coke bottle," he said. "They don't care. Are we going to have to provide 100 water bottles for kids on the sideline for football for everybody to have their own water bottle? That's things that we'll just have to battle through."

Similarly, Idaho’s plan includes social distancing, although that plan doesn’t come with any enforcement procedures or penalties for violating it. “The No. 1 thing on everyone’s agenda is to not risk anyone’s health and to restore some sort of normalcy in our kids’ lives and our communities,” said Tom Shanahan, president of the 5A and 4A Southern Idaho Conferences (SIC).

Jason Warr, the activities director for the West Ada School District, noted that while nothing is perfect, the return of high school sports will go a long way to establishing a normal routine.The SIC’s plan already asks players to stay home if they’re sick, which should eliminate anyone with a fever. He said the West Ada School District has purchased hand-washing stations for every baseball and football stadium, as well as hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

“Our goals are to protect the health and safety of students, coaches and spectators,” Warr said. “At this point we’re more focused on our students and coaches. But that’s physically, emotionally and mentally. We’re trying to meet in the middle.”

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