The head of the governing body for Alabama high school sports on Thursday laid out a plan allowing maximum flexibility and give student-athletes a chance to have “as normal a childhood as possible.”
Steve Savarese, executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association explained the decision Wednesday by the organization’s Central Board of Control to allow fall sports under a “best practices” plan.
“Last spring, what happened to our spring sports hopefully will never happen again,” he said. “And to move our spring sports to the fall, where they may not have a season, to jeopardize their season, would be unconscionable right now. We are not going to do that.”
The blueprint leans heavily on individual decisions by local school systems as they navigate the risks of COVID-19.
“Moreover, everyone should understand sports this season will not be normal,” he said. “We cannot think in normal terms. Therefore, our board has provided schools flexibility to pay or to not play without penalty and to allow school officials to use their judgment based on the latest health information available for their specific region of the state.”
But please know, those best practices will not eliminate the risks, only mitigate them.
Savarese cautioned, however, that the whole plan could be superseded in the event of an executive order by Gov. Kay Ivey or some other development beyond its control.
The association has no prohibition against sports participation by students who are learning remotely. That opens the door for Mobile County public school students, who will begin the year outside the classroom. But Savarese said local districts will have the option of restricting participation to students attending physical classes.
Savarese said parents will have to make their own decisions about whether to allow their children to play.
“These best practices are provided to mitigate their exposure to COVID-19,” he said. “And it was a priority of the board. But please know, those best practices will not eliminate the risks, only mitigate them.”
Officials with the AHSAA released its "best practices" plans for student-athletes participating in fall sports.
Fall sports teams have the option to begin workouts Monday, July 27. The first week will be used by football for acclimation purposes with helmets and shorts only.
The other sports, volleyball, cross country, swimming, and diving teams can use the first week for acclimation and tryouts. Schools that do not want to begin on July 27 may start fall practice on Aug. 3. That first week will be an “acclamation period.”
The first contest can be Aug. 20.
The plan allows for slight rules changes in the sports. A few examples:
- Football games will extend players box from the 10-yard-line to the other 10-yard-line to spread players out. Timeouts will be extended to 2 minutes.
- Cross country courses will be widened to at least 6 feet, when feasible.
- Volleyball matches will alter the usual practices of teams change benches. Pre-match conferences will be moved to center court and will include only head coaches, not captains. In addition, the number of people allowed at the official’s table will be limited.
- Swimming and diving team members will be expected to already be in competitive attire when they arrive. The number of people at pre-meet conferences will be limited. All takeoff judging will occur from the sides of pools
The plan also contains a number of general guidelines, including masks, hand-washing, disinfection and social distancing.
The guidelines recommend assigned seating on buses to and from games and cashless ticketing for fans. She said schools will determine for themselves whether and how to restrict fans at events.
“We would encourage the local school administration to prioritize the band and cheerleaders being present before fans and then working the fans in after that,” said Denise Ainsworth, the assistant director of the governing organization.
Ainsworth said those general rules already have been implanted.
She said coaches will have to stress to their players the importance of what takes place when they are not on the field.
“We’ve managed these pretty well at the school this summer,” she said. “We’re practiced these things. But it is important that these athletes practice these same mitigation skills with their family, with their friends.”