Shock waves rolled through the local sports community Wednesday morning when a post on social media announced high school football season would be starting in mid-September.
As it turned out, the announcement was unfounded, or at the very least premature, and was later removed, but the damage had already been done, as several area athletic directors and administrators can attest after being inundated with phone calls.
For a large segment of the local population, it was just one more frustration for sports-starved fans, hungry for an end to a two-month drought.
Although no firm dates have been established, there has been some movement in that direction. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the body that writes the rules of competition for most high school sports and activities in the United States, released a 16-page document on Tuesday recommending how to carefully “open up” athletics and activities for member schools amid the fluid state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"These are very strange times and I’m just happy that we’re being provided some guidance of what it’s going to look like as things unfold for us,” said Stan Greene, the director of school support services for the Kern High School District. “Obviously we have a lot of hurdles that we still have to get over before we can even (consider setting dates to return to action). But it’s nice to have some guidance from the regulatory agency, being the NHFS.”
The guidelines included three phases.
During Phase I:
• Athletes and coaches are to be screened before each workout, including a temperature check
• There should be no gatherings of 10 or more people, inside or outside,
• There should be no locker room usage and workouts should consist of the same pod of five to 10 students – with proper social-distancing of at least 6 feet between all athletes and coaches.
• Athletes and coaches should wash their hands a minimum of 20 seconds, and should utilize hand sanitizer whenever possible.
• Students should be encouraged to go directly home after a workout and wash their clothes and gear.
• There should be no shared athletic equipment or apparel among students, including towels and water bottles.
• There should be no sharing of a single ball (basketball, football, soccer ball, volleyball, baseball, softball) among players in a team workout or drill.
• No water-drinking stations will be utilized.
“So we’re happy to see where we’re headed, at least as far as the planning stage,” Greene said. “Because for the last two months we’ve just been kind of in limbo where nothing is going on and nothing is going to go on. It’s nice to see that there’s a little bit of guidance out there as far as what things will look like as they start to unfold.”
In Phase II:
• There should be no gatherings of 10 or more people inside, but it increases to a maximum of 50 outdoors.
• Minimal usage of locker rooms allowed, keeping in mind 6 feet of social distancing between athletes and coaches.
• Lower-risk sports such as individual running events, throwing events, individual swimming events, golf, weightlifting, alpine skiing, sideline cheerleading, single sculling and cross country can resume full practices and competitions.
• Modified practices for moderate-risk sports such as basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, water polo, gymnastics, ice hockey, field hockey, tennis, swimming relays, pole vault, high jump, long jump, girls lacrosse, crew with two or more rowers and 7-v-7 football will be allowed.
During Phase III:
• No more daily screenings with temperature checks. Any person with a fever or cold symptoms in the past 24 hours should not practice and instead seek doctor’s care.
• Gatherings of up to 50 athletes and coaches are allowed, indoors and outdoors.
• Social distancing is reduced to a range of 3 to 6 feet.
• Moderate-risk sports can hold full practices and competitions.
• Modified practices for high-risk sports such as wrestling, football, boys lacrosse and competitive cheer and dance will be allowed.
The document also had recommendations for who is allowed to attend competitions, breaking it down in three different tiers.
In Tier 1, the essential people, are athletes, coaches, officials, event staff, medical staff and security. Tier 2 includes media and Tier 3 adds the non-essential people, spectators and vendors.
California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) officials are scheduled to meet May 29 for its first regular session in two months. The April meeting was canceled. Central Section Commissioner Jim Crichlow, who is scheduled to retire at the end of June, added that all the state’s commissioners are planning to discuss all the possible scenarios for the upcoming high school sports season in a separate meeting following the regular session.
“There are committees that are working on those very things as far as taking the recommendations, looking at them, especially our sports medicine advisor committee,” said Crichlow, who has been the section’s commissioner the past 19 years. “We plan to meet at least two more times between now and the middle of June to talk about where and when we might be able to start, if we can start, how the games will be played. With or without fans. So all of that stuff is still up in the air, but contingencies are being worked on by multiple groups.”
So while mid-September may not be a realistic target date for high school sports to return, the wheels appear to be in motion.
“I’m also a firm believer that we’re going to know more about this in the next 6 to 8 weeks,” Greene said. “I feel like we’ve had kind of a little lule here, and now that they’re starting to lessen the restrictions, I think the next 6 to 8 weeks is going to define where this thing is headed for us.”