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The National Federation of State High School Associations’ Sports Medicine Advisory Committee on Tuesday released suggested guidelines for the reopening of prep athletics across the United States. Each state’s high school sports group, such as the IHSA, will have the final say on how that state returns to action, though the SMAC ‘strongly urges that these organizations engage with state and local health departments to develop policy regarding coordinated approaches for return to activity.’ Preps coordinator COLIN LIKAS parsed the multi-page SMAC document for the most integral pieces of information:

THREE PHASES FOR REOPENING HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

Prelude from the SMAC: “Current preseason conditioning and acclimatization models assume that athletes have deconditioned over the summer months. The current pandemic may result in students being deconditioned for four to five months. The NFHS is currently involved with a number of other organizations in developing consensus guidelines for fall sports practices. These guidelines will be sent to state associations immediately after they are finalized and approved by all involved organizations.”

Takeaway: No hard deadline for every state is in place on when high school sports can return yet.

PHASE 1 HIGHLIGHTS

(From SMAC document)

— All coaches and students should be screened for signs/symptoms of COVID-19 prior to a workout. Screening includes a temperature check.

— Vulnerable individuals should not oversee or participate in any workouts. (Vulnerable individuals, as defined by Centers for Disease Control: People age 65 and older, others with serious underlying health conditions and those whose immune systems are compromised.)

— No gathering of more than 10 people at a time, inside or outside.

— Locker rooms should not be utilized.

— Workouts should be conducted in pods of students, with the same 5-10 students always working out together. Smaller pods can be utilized for weight training.

— There must be a minimum distance of 6 feet between each individual at all times.

— Adequate cleaning schedules should be created and implemented for all athletic facilities to mitigate any communicable diseases.

— Prior to an individual or groups of individuals entering a facility, hard surfaces within that facility should be wiped down and sanitized.

— Weight equipment should be wiped down thoroughly before and after an individual’s use of equipment.

— Any equipment such as weight benches and athletic pads having holes with exposed foam should be covered.

— There should be no shared athletic equipment between students.*

— All athletic equipment, including balls, should be cleaned after each use and prior to the next workout.

— Free-weight exercises that require a spotter cannot be conducted while honoring social distancing norms.

— All students shall bring their own water bottle. Water bottles must not be shared.

— Hydration stations should not be utilized.

*Examples of shared athletic equipment

— A basketball player can shoot with a ball, but a team should not practice/pass a single ball among the team where multiple players touch the same ball.

— 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.

— A volleyball player should not use a single ball that others touch or hit in any manner.

— Softball and baseball players should not share gloves and bats or throw a single ball that will be tossed among the team. A single player may hit in cages or throw batting practice (with netting as a backstop; no catcher). Prior to another athlete using the same balls, they should be collected and cleaned individually.

— Wrestlers may skill and drill without touching a teammate.

— Cheerleaders may not practice/perform partner stunts or building. (Chants, jumps and dances without contact are permissible.)

— Tennis players may do individual drills, wall volleys and serves.

— Runners should maintain the recommended 6 feet of distancing between individuals.

PHASE 2 CHANGES

(From SMAC document; see after Phase 3 changes for information on sports’ risk rankings)

— Lower risk sports practices and competitions may resume.

— Modified practices may begin for moderate risk sports.

— Up to 50 individuals may gather outdoors for workouts. If locker rooms or meeting rooms are used, there must be a minimum distance of 6 feet between each individual at all times.

— There should be no shared athletic towels, clothing or shoes between students (downgraded from no sports-specific equipment shared).

— All athletic equipment, including balls, should be cleaned intermittently during practices and contests. Athletic equipment such as bats, batting helmets and catcher’s gear should be cleaned between each use. Maximum lifts should be limited, power cages should be used for squats and bench presses, and spotters should stand at each end of the bar.

PHASE 3 CHANGES

(From SMAC document)

— Moderate risk sports practices and competitions may begin.

— Modified practices may begin for higher risk sports … (as long as those involved) continue pre-practice screening as in Phases 1 and 2, and shower immediately after practices/contests.

— Any person who has had a fever or cold symptoms in the previous 24 hours should not be allowed to take part in workouts (replaces pre-workout screenings).

— Vulnerable individuals can resume public interactions but should practice physical distancing.

— Gathering sizes of up to 50 individuals allowed, indoors or outdoors.

— When not directly participating in practices or contests, care should be taken to maintain a minimum distance of 3 to 6 feet between each individual.

— Hydration stations may be utilized, but must be cleaned after every practice/contest.

SPORTS DEFINED BY RISK

(From SMAC document)

— Higher risk: Sports that involve close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers and high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants. Examples are wrestling, football, competitive cheer and dance.

— Moderate risk: Sports that involve close, sustained contact, but with protective equipment in place that may reduce the likelihood of respiratory particle transmission between participants, intermittent close contact, group sports or sports that use equipment that can’t be cleaned between participants. Examples are basketball, volleyball*, baseball*, softball*, soccer, tennis*, swimming relays, pole vault*, high jump*, long jump* and 7-on-7 football. (*Could potentially be considered lower risk with appropriate cleaning of equipment and use of masks by participants.)

— Lower risk: Sports that can be done with social distancing or individually with no sharing of equipment or the ability to clean the equipment between use by competitors. Examples are individual running events, throwing events (shot put, discus), individual swimming, golf, weightlifting, sideline cheer and cross-country (with staggered starts).

OTHER IMPORTANT FACTORS FOR REOPENING

(From SMAC document)

Face masks

— It is recommended that cloth face coverings be worn by students during Phases 1 and 2. Exceptions are swimming, distance running or other high-intensity, aerobic activity. Cloth face coverings may continue to be used during Phase 3 when not engaging in vigorous activity, such as sitting on the bench during contests, in the locker room and in the athletic training room.

— Plastic shields covering the entire face or attached to a helmet shall not be allowed during contests. Their use during practices increases the risk of unintended injury to the person wearing the shield or teammates.

— Coaches, officials and other contest personnel may wear cloth face coverings at all times during Phases 1 through 3. Artificial noisemakers, such as an air horn or a timer system with an alarm, can be used to signal in place of a traditional whistle.

Getting a physical

— A one-year extension is recommended for any student who has a physical that expires before or during the 2020-21 academic year.

— Students who have not had a physical, such as incoming freshmen and students who are first-time participants in athletics, should still be required to have one prior to athletic participation.

— Schools are encouraged to accept documented physicals from out-of-state transfer students.

Transportation

— Schools must consider social-distancing requirements when scheduling contests and events for the fall. Social distancing, as required by a state or local health department, will need to be maintained on buses and vans. Thus, multiple buses, vans and/or guardian transportation will likely be needed.

Social distancing at sporting events

— Appropriate social distancing will need to be maintained on sidelines/bench during contests and events. Consider using tape or paint as a guide for students and coaches.

— Group people into tiers from essential to non-essential and decide which tiers will be allowed at an event. Tier 1 suggestions include athletes, coaches, officials, event staff, medical staff and security. Tier 2 suggestions include media. Tier 3 suggestions include spectators and vendors. Only Tier 1 and 2 personnel will be allowed to attend events until state and local health departments lift restrictions on mass gatherings.

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).