A NEW NORMAL: State organizations offer guidance for fall sports
By BRANDON HURLEY
The rapidly approaching fall athletic season will have quite an odd feel to it once practices begin Aug. 10.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union released Coronavirus-related guidelines for a return high school football, cross country, volleyball and golf on their websites July 29. The recommendations and requirements are the state’s response to the continuing threat of COVID-19 that has taken the lives of more than 150,000 U.S. citizens this year, according to the CDC as of July 31.
Despite all their suggestions, the state has not yet laid out a clear plan on how to respond when an athlete or coach tests positive for Coronavirus. The IHSAA and IGHSAU are both waiting on the Iowa Department of Public Health to recommend how teams should handle quarantines and isolation. During the truncated. one month baseball and softball season this summer, teams were required to suspend their season for 10-14 days when a player or coach tested positive. There is no such plan in place as of yet, but the two state entities do offer a small bit of guidance on how to respond when symptoms and positives to sprout up. It is not clear if one positive test means the whole team must isolate or if only that person must remove themselves.
“Each school should identify a point of contact for athletes, coaches, and other personnel to report to when he/she experiences COVID-19 symptoms, a positive COVID-19 test result or contact with a person with a positive COVID-19 test result,” the IHSAA posted on their website. “This identified person will be responsible to report such situations to local public health. Each school should develop a communication plan to notify relevant persons (players, coaches, spectators) when contact-tracing indicates the need to.”
The biggest structural change to the nation’s most popular sport, football, is the addition of a required timeout every four minutes of gameplay. The eight, two minute timeouts (four per half) will be used for sanitization and hydration. The sideline area for players will also be extended from 10-yard line to 10-yard line. In volleyball, athletes and coaches will be allowed to wear long-sleeves, gloves and pants though they are not required. Teams also cannot switch benches in between sets.
Despite all the health and safety precautions, a physical that was conducted as far back as July 1 of last year will remain current for all athletes until December. Students will not be required to undergo an updated physical prior to the fall season.
On that same notion, school districts should hold health screenings prior to practices and competitions. Any athlete or coach exhibiting symptoms related to the Coronavirus or if they have a temperature 100 degrees or higher must be sent home to isolate. The state is also recommending fans, athletes, coaches, officials and scorekeepers social distance as best as possible, staying six feet apart.
Hand sanitation will be a key aspect of fall sports. The state suggests athletes should sanitize frequently, which means before, during and after practices and games. The students “should” have their own personal hand sanitizer they can bring to and from competitions and practices. Hand sanitizing is especially important prior to touching shared equipment.
Team use of locker rooms will be allowed, but many safety guidelines will be enforced. School-issued uniforms, clothing and equipment cannot be stored in the locker room. They must be taken home or immediately washed and sanitized. Social distancing is strongly encouraged even inside the locker room, with athletes and coaches maintaining six feet of space, a measure that should also be combined with the usage of face coverings. The state supplied guidelines suggest creating a rotating schedule for athletes to move in and out of the locker room, possibly cutting down on large gatherings and congestion.
When it comes time for actual, meaningful competitions, state organizations are requiring host schools to produce a district-certified adult who can monitor whether or not fans and athletes are following the safety protocols.
“It is the responsibility of the home team to provide proper administrative supervision (not the coach) at contests to assure compliance with the guidelines set forth by the Governor’s office, the Department of Education, the Department of Public Health, the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union,” the IHSAA states on their website.
Schools can choose not to participate in any of the fall sports, but must provide a written notice to the necessary state organization by Aug. 17.
With that being said, if a district does decide not to field teams during the fall months, those students within the affected district have two options. The school district not participating can develop a sharing agreement with a neighboring school, which gives students an opportunity to compete though it may provoke team eligibility concerns. If the combined enrollment of the schools causes a bump up in classification, the team will not be eligible for postseason play, as stated by the IHSAA. Students can also open enroll in a district that is offering the desired sport of choice, becoming immediately eligible, though such a decision would make the athlete ineligible in their home district for the length of the entire academic year.
Spectators at football games, volleyball matches and cross country meets will not be required to wear masks, but each individual school will be allowed to make a more strict decision on the matter, if they feel inclined. Fans must follow the CDC guidelines and maintain a distance of six feet apart, though families from the same household will be able to congregate.
Instead of forcing our readers to dig through several pages from the complete guidelines, the Jefferson Herald has decided to hit on a few of the sport-specific highlights. The complete guidelines can be found at IAHSAA.org and IGHSAU.org.
And here are the highlights:
- A two minute timeout is required every four minutes of game play for sanitization and hydration, that’s two timeouts per quarter for a total of eight a game, if the state sticks with 12-minute periods.
- Masks are encouraged during gameplay but not required.
- Long-sleeves and long socks are encouraged but not required to cover exposed skin.
- The sideline area for football players will be extended from 10-yard line to 10-yard line.
- The coin toss will include one player from each team.
- No postgame handshakes
- Scrimmages between schools ARE allowed.
- Spitting on and off the field of play is banned
- Water is only to be drank, not used for rinsing or cooling off
- Game balls will be switched out on every fourth down
- Hand and equipment sanitizing is encouraged as often as possible
The IHSAA only offers several somewhat significant considerations in regards to a return to cross country:
They suggest staggering the mass start at each meet as well as widening the course path to at least six ft wide.
Face masks will be allowed during meets
As it looks right now, no sweeping changes have been made to the sport.
- All players are required to sanitize their hands following warm-ups, timeouts and in between sets or anytime a player leaves the court.
- Pre and postgame handshakes are banned
- Each team must bring their own volleyballs for warm-ups
- Teams are not allowed to switch benches between sets
- Athletes are allowed to wear face masks, gloves, long sleeves and pants but they are not required
- Fans are not allowed to sit in the first two rows of bleachers and are “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings while also adhering to social distancing.