The Alabama High School Athletics Association (AHSAA) has released its “best practices” for resuming fall sports in the coming weeks — a list of requirements and recommendations that leaves important decisions about participation, transportation and spectators up to local school districts.
In a press conference Thursday, AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said the priority of the AHSAA’s central board of control has been to develop practices to “mitigate but not eliminate” the risk of exposure to COVID-19 coaches and students-athletes assume when participating in fall sports.
Savarese said even if seasons are cut short because of increased rates of COVID-19, AHSAA wanted to give local schools flexibility instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach for the entire state.
“Parents now have options not only about how they educate their children, but they must make a personal choice about whether they should allow their children to participate in extracurricular activities,” Savarese said. “Everyone should understand sports this season will not be normal. We can’t think in normal terms, therefore our board has provided schools flexibility to play or to not play without penalty and to allow school officials to use their judgment based on the latest health information available in their region.”
With the green light from the AHSAA, schools may choose to begin fall practice as early as July 27, though the first week has to be used for acclimation and will be limited and can not be used for full-contact practice in sports like football. The competitive season will start as scheduled on Aug. 20.
If a school system decides student-athletes shouldn’t participate in a single game or for a season, Savarese said the program will not be penalized for doing so. While any forfeit will be counted as a loss during the season, games forfeited due to COVID-19 outbreaks or concerns would be reviewed by AHSAA at the end of the season to determine how they will affect a school’s overall record.
According to Savarese, AHSAA has left other critical decisions up to local school officials — including restrictions on fans and spectators and how many members of the team are able to travel to away games. He also said even if schools only resume online classes — something several large districts plan to do — there is no rule preventing virtual school students from playing sports.
Football has been a primary concern and there will be a few notable changes due to the new “best practices.” The player’s boxes on sidelines will be larger to allow more room for social distancing, timeouts will be longer, the ball will be cleaned more frequently, handshakes will be suspended and only one captain from each team will be allowed to participate in the pregame coin toss.
Officials, coaches and anyone else on the sidelines will be encouraged — but not required — to wear a mask or face covering. For a full list of the AHSAA best practices for all fall sports, click here.
The Mobile County Public School System is delaying the start of its fall semester until September and would only offer online instruction into November. So far, MCPSS has not made any announcement about whether its high schools will participate in fall sports, but it has already postponed middle school sports indefinitely.
“We now have the AHSAA report and are assessing it. We are continuing our summer workouts without pads and tackling. Each school has a plan in place for sanitizing equipment and for maintaining social distancing among the players and coaches. We will continue that as we continue to assess Mobile County’s coronavirus numbers and AHSAA’s recommendations,” an MCPSS statement to Lagniappe read.
If MCPSS schools were to forgo fall athletics entirely, it would have an impact on a number of other schools in the district’s region and area as well. In football particularly, many MCPSS high schools typically play teams across the bay and in Mobile’s private and parochial school systems.
A spokesperson for the system told Lagniappe this week administrators and coaches would be releasing more information after having a chance to review the new AHSAA best practices.
Across the bay, school officials in Baldwin County are reviewing the new rules and recommendations as well. Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler, who is a former football coach himself, has already made it clear schools in his district fully intend to participate in fall sports.
“I’m hoping college football will follow, so I have something to do on Saturdays,” he said. “I’m excited about volleyball, cross country, football, cheerleading and band. There’s no better feeling than being on a practice field in August and you’re sweating and then in the distance, you hear the band playing.”
Tyler said that decisions about team travel, band programs and cheerleaders will be left up to each school.
Marty McRae, assistant superintendent over athletics, said practices are scheduled to start next week.
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