SCHSL: Fate of fall season may depend on how well summer guidelines are followed
Some of the restrictions that will be in place as high school teams governed by the South Carolina High School League return to summer workouts were clarified by the League on Thursday.
In a panel discussion with DHEC, medical professionals, athletic trainers and the League, and in a news conference following that discussion, the League more clearly spelled out the restrictions brought on by COVID-19 and answered questions surrounding Phase 1 of the group’s three-phase plan.
Schools’ return to workouts is no longer tied to on-campus academic activities, with individual districts given autonomy to determine a start date.
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“Phase 1 begins when school districts determine it’s safe for students and staff to attend activities on campus,” SCHSL Commissioner Jerome Singleton said. “Given that some districts are not going to conduct on-campus summer school activities, the districts all have the flexibility to set the start dates and times for summer workouts. Phase 1 is designed to ease the student-athletes back into shape. Strength and conditioning should be prioritized over skill development, and you know your student-athletes best. We ask that you do what’s in their best interest, health-wise.”
When workouts begin, they will include social distancing, face coverings for coaches and athletes, and limits on equipment, among other restrictions. Teams will be permitted to host nine athletes and one coach per facility and can host multiple groups in different facilities across campus. However, facilities may not be divided, and two groups of 10 may not occupy the same facility at the same time. Staggered start times are recommended for each nine-athlete pod, and they are encouraged to move from one area of campus to the next following proper sanitation. If one athlete in a pod tests positive for COVID-19, the entire pod will be quarantined for 14 days.
“That’s one reason we asked for the groups to be a small number,” Singleton said.
Athletes must wear a mask when in a classroom setting, while receiving instruction and while doing walk-throughs but may remove them during conditioning drills. Coaches are to wear masks at all times, with the exception of coaches participating in drills, such as a cross-country coach running the course with his or her athletes.
No sport-specific equipment may be used for the first 14 calendar days of workouts, and equipment may not be shared after the 14-day period. In addition, no spotters will be allowed in the weight room. Ladders, ground dummies, and other agility apparatuses may be used.
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Athletes are required to provide their own water bottles for hydration and will have a temperature check and health screening prior to working out.
Singleton said the League was hopeful that the restrictions could ease the spread of COVID-19 once workouts resume.
“This is unprecedented territory,” he said. “We hope for a full return to activities soon, but we know that conditions with this virus change rapidly. That’s why we’re approaching the return in a staggered fashion, and using the most up-to-date information to determine what’s next, including what steps are necessary for a relatively low-risk return to competition. We know it’s not possible to avoid an athlete becoming infected, but hopefully this can help mitigate the spread.”
Singleton said advancing to Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the League’s plan – and the start of the season – depend completely on the progress of Phase 1.
“We don’t have dates, but we have some triggers," he said. "When is it safe to increase the number of people in a group? When is it safe to reduce social distancing? If those triggers occur, then we can move into the next phases. We’ll lean heavily toward DHEC to help us determine those things.”
While the League is hopeful for a quick return process, Singleton knows that it could be a tough road.
“One of the biggest questions we’ve been asked from the very beginning was ‘Are we going to have a fall sports season?’ ” he said. “If social distancing must be maintained, if that’s the recommendation, then we’re looking at a national issue. You can see which sports would be jeopardized if we have social distancing. Some sports lend themselves to more distancing. Some are very prohibitive. A lot of the time, the game doesn’t allow it (distancing) in a normal fashion.”
Singleton is also hopeful that teams will abide by the regulations in order to help accelerate the return of some sense of normalcy.
“I’d hope that we would pay attention to DHEC and to our mitigation measures, move smoothly from one phase to the next, and feel confident that even if not all sports, we could have a fall season with sports.”
Singleton said the League hasn’t set specific penalties for violating the regulations, but asked that coaches and teams be mindful of what could be the biggest penalty of all.
“The penalty is probably that we wouldn’t be able to have sports because we can’t move ahead without everybody working together,” he said.