Corona virus changing summer workouts for high school athletes
HIGH SCHOOL

Corona virus changing summer workouts for high school athletes

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High School Football

St. Thomas More defensive linemen work on a stunting drill during the opening day of high school football practice last season.

 Summer workouts for high school athletes won’t be business as usual in the age of the corona virus. Thursday the South Dakota High School Activities Association board of directors approved a detailed recommendation for a three-phase plan to offer guidance for summer workouts.

The five-page plan can be seen in its entirety on the board agenda at www.sdhsaa.com. The guidance for summer workouts, in effect from June 1 to July 31, lists the safety of students as its highest priority.

As an organization, SDHSAA strives for equity in activities for all schools. In the case of trying to schedule workouts during a virus outbreak, the organization acknowledges that inequities will take place due to geography.

“It is unlikely that ALL students will be able to return to and sustain athletic activity in all schools/communities at the same time,” according to the recommendation. “While the SDHSAA would typically have reservations about this inequity, our goal for this summer is to allow students to return to school-based athletics and activities in any and all situations where it can be done safely.”

Social distancing and the use of face coverings are guiding principles for the summer workouts.

“We note on there that cloth face coverings should be acceptable in all phases of this document,” said SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos.

SDHSAA recommends summer workouts be approached in three phases of 14 days each. If one phase is accomplished with a downward or flat trajectory of cases, then the school could move on to the next phase.

Athletics and activities fall into three categories: lower risk, moderate risk and higher risk. Lower risk activities, which can be done with social distancing and no sharing of equipment include golf; weight training; sideline cheer; individual running events; cross-country running, with staggered starts; throwing events like shot put, discus and javelin; debate; and oral interp.

Moderate risk sports which involve close, sustained contact with equipment that can’t be cleaned as it is used by the participants include basketball, volleyball, soccer, gymnastics, tennis, high jump, long jump, pole vault, seven-on-seven football and one-act play. With the appropriate cleaning of equipment and the use of masks by participants, tennis, volleyball, gymnastics and track events could be considered in the lower risk category.

There were some questions about including basketball in the moderate risk category rather than labeling it as higher risk.

Swartos explained that the National Federation of State High School Associations and the Olympic Committee both rank basketball as a moderate risk.

“There would be nothing stopping you as a school district from considering it as high risk,” Swartos said.

Higher risk events which have sustained contact between participants with a high likelihood that the respiratory particles that carry the virus could be transmitted between participants include football, wrestling and competitive cheer and dance.

The recommendation notes that the NFHS is still studying the spread of respiratory droplets during singing and the playing of wind instruments. Until that is determined, activities like chorus, orchestra and music should be considered higher risk with practice on an individual basis.

All three phases include guidance for pre-workout screenings, limitations on gatherings, facilities cleaning, physical activity and athletic equipment and hydration.

Pre-workout screenings

In the first two phases pre-workout/contact screening calls for all coaches and students to be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 prior to a workout including a temperature check. Screenings should be recorded for the purposes of contact tracing and those who are screened with a positive response should be referred to a doctor and receive medical clearance before returning.

In phases one and two, no individual deemed to be vulnerable to the virus should participate. Vulnerable individuals include people 65 and older, those with high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma or those with compromised immune systems such as receiving chemotherapy for cancer.

In phase three, vulnerable individuals can resume public interactions but should practice physical distancing.

SDHSAA Assistant Director John Krogstrand emphasized that students aren’t the only ones who need to be screened, noting that coaches and anyone present for the workout also needs to be screened.

“If coach has a temperature, workouts are cancelled for that day,” Krogstrand said.

Limitations on gatherings

In phase one, the limit on gatherings calls for no more than 10 people either inside or outside to include participants and coaches. Locker rooms won’t be used in phase one with athletes coming to practice in the proper attire and returning home to shower after a workout. Workouts should always be conducted with the same “pod” of five to 10 people including coaches. Smaller pods can be used for weight training. Social distancing should be strictly enforced to the point of having some people leave the room if there is not enough space to provide six feet of space between individuals.

In phase two, gatherings can be up to 10 inside and up to 50 outside. A minimum of six feet must be kept between individuals if locker rooms are used. The same rules for pods and social distancing apply with the suggestion that tape or field paint be used to guide students and coaches.

In phase three, gatherings of up to 50 are allowed inside and outside. Those not taking part in a practice or workout should do their best to maintain social distancing.

Facilities cleaning

These recommendations are similar for all three phases. They include creating and implementing cleaning schedules for facilities, sanitizing hard surfaces prior to workouts, hand washing, plentiful hand sanitizer, wiping down weight equipment after each use, shirts and shoes to be worn at all times and students encouraged to shower and wash their workout clothes immediately upon returning home.

Physical activity and athletic equipment

In phase one, low risk activities may begin practices with distancing measures in place. Moderate and higher risk activities should focus on individual drills and weight training. In phase two, modified practices can begin for moderate risk activities and modified practices can begin for higher risk activities in phase three.

In all three phases there should be no sharing of athletic equipment—towels, clothing, shoes or sports-specific equipment—between students. All athletic equipment, including balls, should be cleaned after each use. In phase three, equipment like wrestling ear guards and football helmets should be worn by only one individual and not shared.

Hydration

In phases one and two, students should bring their own water bottles and they should not be shared. Water fountains should not be used. In phase three, water fountains may be used but must be cleaned intermittently and after every practice or workout.

Activities for each phase

SDHSAA offers guidance about the kinds of activities that can take place in each of the phases. Low risk activities — running events, throwing events, golf, sideline cheer, cross-country, debate and oral interp — can conduct full practices in each phase with the proper social distancing.

Moderate risk activities — basketball, volleyball, soccer, gymnastics, tennis, pole vault, high jump, long jump, seven-on-seven football and one-act play —are allowed individual drills in phase one. They may practice with the equipment/balls but no passing or exchanging of the equipment is allowed. Team runs will have staggered starts. Phase two includes modified drills with distancing in effect, use of equipment with intermittent cleaning and non-competitive drills. Full practices are allowed in phase three.

Higher risk activities — football, wrestling, competitive dance and competitive cheer — are allowed phase one activities the same as those used by the moderate risk sports. Phase two includes more individual drills, the use of equipment with intermittent cleaning and team runs with staggered starts. In phase three, modified drills with distancing in effect, use of equipment with intermittent cleaning and non-competitive drills.

Swartos stressed that the guidelines offered by the association are not binding and that school districts may wish to implement greater safety measures based on the level of infection in their community.

“There’s no way for us as an association to be able to track and put an overall blanket guidance out for 180 different schools,” Swartos said. “The schools are going to have to look at what’s going on in their own communities.”

Swartos told the board he will form a task force of school officials and medical professionals to offer guidance and recommendations about the start of school activities in the fall.

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