INDIANAPOLIS — The National Federation of State High School Sports Association laid the framework for high school athletics around the nation to return this fall.
In a 16-page document, the NFHS released a three-phase plan developed by the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC). The 15-member panel is composed of medical doctors, certified athletic trainers, high school coaches and officials, research specialists and state high school association executives and regularly develops position statements related to medical aspects of high school athletics.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association is a member of the NFHS and is expected to follow these guidelines for the upcoming high school athletic season.
The document explains the three-phase plan and labeled sports as higher risk, moderate risk and lower risk. It lays out the groundwork for how to conduct pre-workout screenings, limitations on gatherings, how to conduct the workouts and ways to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 with a strict cleaning schedule and recommendations on hygiene.
"It is important to be clear that this is guidance for individual states to consider as they return to activities this fall," said Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director. "States will utilize the guidance in this document as it best fits their state after consulting with local and state health departments.
"The NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee utilized recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as some return-to-play considerations by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), in formulating this guidance document for re-opening athletics and other activities in our nation’s schools."
The NFHS lists higher risk sports as those that involve close, sustained contact between participants and feature a lack of significant protective barriers and have a high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants. Those sports include wrestling, football, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer and dance.
Moderate risk sports are those that share the same features as higher risk along with intermittent close contact or group sports or sports that use equipment that cannot be cleaned between participants Those sports include basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, water polo, gymnastics, ice hockey, field hockey, tennis, swimming relays, pole vault, high jump, long jump, girls lacrosse, crew and 7-on-7 football.
Lower risk sports are those that can be done with social distancing or individually with no sharing of equipment and use of masks by participants. Those include running events, throwing events, individual swimming, golf, weightlifting, skiing, sideline cheer and cross country running with staggered starts.
During Phase 1, the NFHS outlined five limitations. The first limitation is pre-workout screenings, with all coaches and students to be screened for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and have their temperatures checked. They will be required to answer screening questions and have those answers recorded and stored so there is a record of everyone present for the workout.
If there is a positive symptom, the coach or athlete will not be allowed to take part in the workout. Those individuals who are vulnerable to the virus are also not allowed to oversee or participate in any workouts.
The next limitation is on gatherings. During Phase 1, there will be no more than 10 people gathering at a time whether the workout is held inside or outside. The locker rooms will be off-limits and athletes will be required to arrive in their proper workout gear and will be encouraged to return home to shower immediately after the workout.
The workouts will be required to be conducted in pods of 5-10 athletes. The same 5-10 athletes will always be working out together and there will be no mixing of groups. In those pods, it is required to have a minimum of six feet between each individual at all times. If this is not possible during an indoor training session, the number of individuals in the room must be decreased.
The final three limitations have to do with cleaning and hygiene. Facilities are required to develop an adequate cleaning schedule and it should be implemented for all athletic facilities. Prior to a workout for an individual or group, hard surfaces will need to be sanitized and individuals will be required to wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds before touching any surfaces or participating in workouts. Hand sanitizer will be required to be plentiful and available as the athletes transfer from place to place and all weight training equipment should be wiped down thoroughly before and after use.
Participants are required to wear clothing and shoes at all times and are encouraged to return home immediately after the workout to wash their clothes and take a shower.
Athletes are forbidden to share athletic equipment and any equipment used by the athletes such as basketballs will be required to be cleaned after each use. Any free weight exercises that require a spotter is banned.
The document lists eight examples that restrict physical activity and equipment usage. A basketball player can shoot a ball, but a team cannot practice or pass a single ball among the team where multiple players touch the same ball.
A football player cannot participate in a team drill where a single ball is handed off or passed to another teammate and contact with other players is prohibited. There is also no sharing of tackling dummies among multiple athletes.
A volleyball player cannot use a single ball that others touch or hit in any manner.
Softball and baseball players cannot share gloves, bats or throw a single ball that will touch another teammate. A single player may hit in cages and throw batting practice without a catcher, but prior to the next athlete using the same balls, the balls will need to be collected and cleaned individually.
Wrestlers cannot touch teammates and cheerleaders cannot practice or perform partner stunts. Tennis players are encouraged to do individual drills and use a wall to volley and serve and all runners must maintain six feet between each individual.
Each athlete is required to bring their own water bottle; hydration stations are prohibited.
In Phase 2, the pre-workout screening remains the same.
The limitations on gathering becomes a bit more relaxed. There is still a limit of 10 people on any inside workout, but the outdoor workouts allow for 50 individuals to gather. Locker rooms will open back up, but will require six feet between individuals.
The pod-style workout should still be practiced with the same 5-10 students working out together at all times. And the six-foot separation rule still applies.
Cleaning and hygiene requirements remain the same and most of the athletic equipment usage restrictions remain.
The biggest change in Phase 2 is the sports categorized as "lower risk" may resume practices and competitions and modified practiced may begin for moderate risk sports. Also, the weight lifts that require spotters can resume with one spotter at each end of the bar, but a power cage is recommended.
All students are still required to bring their own water bottles and hydration stations are prohibited.
The final phase to reopening high school sports has loose restrictions. For pre-workout screening, any person who had a fever or cold symptom in the last 24 hours will not be allowed to partake in workouts. The vulnerable individuals can now resume public interactions but are required to practice physical distancing.
The limitations on gatherings allows for 50 individuals indoors and outdoors and for those not directly participating in practices or contests should be three to six feet apart.
Cleaning and hygiene remains the same as in Phase 1 with no shoeing in locker rooms and a strict cleaning schedule remaining in place.
The "moderate risk" sports can begin practices and competitions. Modified practices for the "higher risk" sports can begin. Coaches and athletes are required to continue pre-workout screening guidelines in Phases 1 and 2. The NFHS will re-assess epidemiology data and experiences in other states to determine when "higher risk" sports can resume competition.
All students are required to bring their own water bottle and hydration stations can be utilized but must be cleaned after every practice or contest.
Weight lifts requiring a spotter are still to be performed in a power cage and spotters at the end of each bar are allowed.
The SMAC and NFHS "suggest that each state high school association consult with their state and local health departments for determining the appropriate dates for implementing a phased-in approach within their respective states," according to the document.
Jim Furr can be reached at email@example.com, 740-244-9934 or Twitter: @JakeFurr11