Fall sports are scheduled to begin Aug. 24 with practices and contests that could look a whole lot different due to COVID-19. While a task force put together by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association president Paul Harrica continues to work on figuring out whether a fall sports season is even feasible, the National Federation of State High School Associations released a guideline for how individual states can approach restarting high school sports.
While the guideline outlines specific measures and steps that could be taken, it’s not a direct order or official plan. Its purpose is to help the state associations throughout the country navigate the unprecedented task of restarting high school sports amid a global pandemic.
The plan, put together by the NFHS and its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, features detailed phases along with suggested questions that each state association should be able to answer before attempting to restart athletics.
The plan states that “The NFHS SMAC believes it is essential to the physical and mental well-being of high school students across the nation to return to physical activity and athletic competition.”
With New York currently opening up in regions, it’s unclear if fall sports will be able to begin in some parts of the state but not in others. When determining the fate of spring sports, the NYSPHSAA left it up to the judgment of its section executive directors, before ultimately issuing a state-wide cancellation of the season.
As per usual, the NYSPHSAA will act in accordance with state and department of health guidelines.
Like the reopening of business throughout the country, the NFHS recommended plan will provide a different experience for viewing and playing high school athletics than usual.
The NFHS, SMAC recommended guidelines suggests that state associations be able to answer the following four questions:
“1. Will your state association conduct an athletics/activities regular season or championship if public schools statewide are closed to in-person learning (apart from regularly scheduled school breaks)?
2. Will your state association conduct an athletics/activities regular season or championship if schools are closed only in COVID-19 ‘hotspots’ in your state? (excluding participants from schools that are closed)?
3. Will your state association conduct an athletics/activities regular season in sports deemed ‘lowerrisk’ for COVID-19 transmission while cancelling athletics/activities considered ‘higher-risk?’
4. Are there recommendations unique to your state – or regions of your state – that you need to take into consideration when developing return-to-activity guidelines?”
NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas has stated multiple times through the course of the pandemic that New York athletics will only continue once students are physically back in the classroom.
The plan recommended by the NFHS is broken up into three phases to help slowly reintroduce athletics while keeping students, coaches, officials, etc. safe.
Each phase is broken up into four sub categories: Pre-workout screening, limitations on gatherings, facilities cleaning, Physical activity and athletic equipment, and hydration.
According to the plan, in attempt to limit any possibly infected individuals from participating in workouts or practices, all coaches and students must be screened prior to the start of the workout, which includes a temperature check.
Any student or coach with positive symptoms would not be allowed to take part in the workout and will be instructed to see a physician.
Phase one of the recommended plan suggests that there be: “No gathering of more than 10 people at a time (inside or outside).” In terms of workouts with teams larger than 10 players, the plan suggests that practice should be broken up into groups of 5-10 with players not moving from group to group. The plan explains that “this ensures more limited exposure if someone develops an infection.”
The plan also suggests that minimum distance of six feet between individuals at all times and that locker rooms should not be utilized when in phase one.
Under phase one, intense sanitation methods are suggested for facilities and equipment. It is recommended that student-athletes do not share equipment,including balls. One of the following examples the plan states as it pertains to football:
“A football player should not participate in team drills with a single ball that will be handed off or passed to other teammates. Contact with other players is not allowed, and there should be no sharing of tackling dummies/donuts/sleds.”
Phases two and three loosen the restrictions while still maintaining some form of health management. Pre-workout screenings will still be required, and the size of gatherings allowed will grow as the state/area advances through the phases.
The recommended plan still suggest the adequate cleaning of facilities and equipment, prior, during and after workouts.
Under the section labeled “Contests,” sport are broken down into three categories based on their potential infection risk: high risk, moderate risk, low risk.
High risk includes: wrestling, football, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer, dance; moderate risk includes: basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, water polo, gymnastics (if equipment can’t be sufficiently cleaned between competitors), ice hockey, field hockey, tennis, swimming relays, pole vault, high jump, long jump, girls lacrosse; and low risk includes: Individual running events, throwing events (javelin, shot put, discus), individual swimming, golf, weightlifting, alpine skiing, sideline cheer, single sculling, cross country running (with staggered starts).
The plan suggests social distancing be required while on the bench or sidelines and also on bus rides.
In terms of who will be allowed at events, the plan breaks down groups into three tiers. Tier one includes players, coaches and officials and are considered “essential”, tier two includes media and is considered “preferred” and tier three includes spectators and vendors and is considered “non-essential.”
The plan then states that “only Tier 1 and 2 personnel will be allowed to attend events until state/local health departments lift restrictions on mass gatherings.”
The publicized plan is simply a guideline to help the individual state associations solve for a problem they have never encountered.
The full plan, titled “Guidance for opening high school athletics and activities,” can be found here: https://bit.ly/2LLZ4xu