By CARA COOPER
The National Federation of State High School Associations on Wednesday released its guidance for high school athletics for a fall season.
The NFHS is the governing body of high school athletic associations across the country, including the Virginia High School League. The document, which is 15 pages long, was developed by the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, composed of medical doctors, certified athletic trainers, high school coaches and officials, research specialists and state high school athletic association executives. The guidance is just ideas for state associations to consider.
“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,” the release read. “The NFHS SMAC recognizes that it is likely that all students will not be able to return to – and sustain – athletic activity at the same time in all schools, regions and states. There will also likely be variation in what sports and activities are allowed to be played and held. While we would typically have reservations regarding such inequities, the NFHS SMAC endorses the idea of returning students to school-based athletics and activities where it can be done safely.”
The VHSL announced on Tuesday it was working with various medical and coaching groups to develop its own plan for a return to sports this fall, but stressed that reopening will only happen in accordance with the governor’s directives.
The first day of the practices for football and golf for the fall 2020 season is scheduled for July 30. The golf season will begin competition on Aug. 3. The first day of practices for volleyball and cross country for the fall is scheduled for Aug. 3, with games and meets beginning the week of Aug. 24. The first football games are scheduled for Aug. 28.
So what would a high school sports season look like this August?
Protecting against the virus
The NFHS said that testing regimens and response to a student or team member testing positive for COVID-19 are currently under review. Guidance on how to approach those issues will come from the CDC and state and local health departments.
“Due to the near certainty of recurrent outbreaks this coming fall and winter in some locales, state associations must be prepared for periodic school closures and the possibility of some teams having to isolate for two to three weeks while in-season,” the guidelines read. “Development of policies is recommended regarding practice and/or competition during temporary school closures, the cancellation of contests during the regular season, and parameters for the cancellation or premature ending to post-season events/competitions.”
The NFHS also suggested scheduling contests that require less travel when possible.
The guidelines state that all coaches and students should be screened for COVID-19 symptoms or signs of the virus prior to a workout. Any person with positive symptoms should not be allowed to take part in workouts.
To start, the guidance suggest a break down of sports into higher, moderate, and lower risk. Football, for example, is considered high risk due to the potential exposure to “respiratory droplets”. Volleyball is moderate, though could be lower with proper cleaning and mask use, and golf and cross country are considered lower risk, easily played with social-distancing guidelines in place.
The guidelines from the NFHS are broken up into three phases, based similarly to the phases set by each state for reopening. Virginia is currently in Phase 1 of reopening.
In Phase 1 of the NFHS’s guidelines, there should be no contact among athletes, and no sharing of equipment, with proper cleaning of balls and equipment between each use by an athlete. For example, for football it states, “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.”
Similar contact rules would be required for volleyball.
The NFHS also advises the use of masks and face coverings as well as continued social-distancing for as long as state and local health departments suggest.
“Until a cure, vaccine or very effective treatment is readily available, or so-called ‘herd immunity’ is confidently reached, social distancing and other preventive measures such as face covering will be a ‘new normal’ if workouts, practices, and contests are to continue,” the guidelines read.
The guidelines suggest no gatherings of more than 10 people at a time, either indoors or outdoors, and workouts should be conducted in smaller “pods” of students.
Locker rooms should not be utilized, with students reporting to workouts in proper gear and immediately returning home to shower at the end of workouts.
In the second phase, lower risk sports would be allowed to hold competition, and modified practices may begin for Moderate risk sports. Locker rooms may be used with proper social-distancing, with “pod” workouts continuing. Guidelines for sharing equipment, both team and personal, remain in place.
Moderate risk sports practices and competitions may begin in phase 3, and higher risks sports could begin holding practices. Further guidance from health officials would be needed before high risk sports could begin holding contests.
Gatherings indoors or outdoors of up to 50 people would be permitted. Athletes and essential personnel at games and practices would be asked to maintain 3-6 feet of social-distancing at all times. Masks would be suggested for athletes and coaches not competing on the field.
The full report from the NFHS can be found online at www.nfhs.org.
Cara Cooper writes for The Martinsville Bulletin.