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The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) on Tuesday released a set of suggested guidelines for state associations to consider when beginning the reopening of high school athletics across the United States.  

The guidelines pointed out that the NFHS firmly believes that a return to physical activity and athletic competition is necessary for the physical and mental well-being of high school students nationwide.  But it also recognized that not all students will be able to return to athletic activity at the same time in every school, region and state.  

The NFHS also urges that all state associations and organizations engage with state and local health departments to develop a policy regarding coordinated approaches for a return to activity for high school, club and youth sports.

The NFHS also noted that the recommendations presented in the document are intended as ideas for state associations to consider with their respective SMACs and other stakeholders in designing return-to-activity guidelines that will be in accordance with state or local restrictions.

Some of the questions that were suggested that each association should consider are, will your state association conduct an athletics/activities regular season or championship if public schools statewide are closed to in-person learning (apart from regularly scheduled school breaks)?

Also, will your state association conduct an athletics/activities regular season or championship if schools are closed only in COVID-19 “hotspots” in your state? (excluding participants from schools that are closed)?

Other questions included, will your state association conduct an athletics/activities regular season in sports deemed “lower-risk” for COVID-19 transmission while cancelling athletics/activities considered “higher-risk?”  And, are there recommendations unique to your state – or regions of your state – that you need to take into consideration when developing return-to-activity guidelines? 

The guidelines sent out by the NFHS also had many points of emphasis, including recognizing the benefits and potential drawbacks of the use of cloth face coverings during conditioning and physical activity.  They even recommended that, 1)State, local or school district guidelines for cloth face coverings should be strictly followed. 2)Cloth face coverings should be considered acceptable. There is no need to require or recommend “medical grade” masks for athletic activity.  And 3)Any student who prefers to wear a cloth face covering during a contest should be allowed to do so.

The NFHS did point out that 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.

And that 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.)

The list of recommendations and suggestions went on and on, including pre-workout screening, student-athlete hydration and facility cleaning guidelines.

The NFHS also pointed out that some high school sports are a lot more risky for contracting Covid-19 and categorized them in three different levels.

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: Wrestling, football, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer, 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 ORintermittent close contact OR group sports OR sports that use equipment that can’t be cleaned between participants. Examples: Basketball, volleyball*, baseball*, softball*, soccer, water polo, gymnastics* (if equipment can’t be sufficiently cleaned between competitors), ice hockey, field hockey, tennis*, swimming relays, pole vault*, high jump*, long jump*, girls lacrosse, crew with two or more rowers in shell, 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: Individual running events, throwing events (javelin, shot put, discus), individual swimming, golf, weightlifting, alpine skiing, sideline cheer, single sculling, cross country running (with staggered starts).  

While the guidelines that were released by the NFHS are not binding rules for each individual state association, they do serve as some sort of steps and process that each state will likely consider as a place to start.

It is another sign of hope that high school sports will return in the near future, and that’s one thing that we do all look forward to.  

However, it does also give us what could possibly be a glimpse into the future.  The new way of doing things now that Covid-19 has entered our world. 

The full set of guidelines can be viewed at nfhs.org.

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