RALEIGH — The North Carolina High School Athletic Association decided to extend its dead period that was originally to end June 1 until June 15.
Que Tucker, the Commissioner of the NCHSAA, said the Board of Directors’ decision was made May 26 to extend the dead period.
“The Board of Directors also directed its staff and the NCHSAA advisory board committee to work with the board in the coming weeks to finalize the plans for Phase 2 of the NCHSAA return to athletic activities,” Tucker said on a Zoom call. “These plans are already in the works, but as more information is learned about the virus, how it spreads and how that spread can be limited, precautions are being added and revised to insure that we are doing all we can from a health and safety perspective to limit the spread of the virus.”
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has announced that it would soon issue guidance on the resumption of youth and high school sports.
The subject was broached at Gov. Roy Cooper’s press conference May 22. NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said NCDHHS would support non-contact sports beginning to play, but not necessarily contact sports.
“We know that contact sports like basketball or football, when you’re in each other’s personal spaces, you’re breathing out respiratory droplets on one another,” Cohen said. “We know that’s a higher way of spreading the virus, as opposed to non-contact sports like tennis, baseball, swimming or golf. Those non-contact sports, that’s fine to proceed from a recommendation perspective. We do have some guidance on how to do each of those activities safely. We’re not recommending contact sports to go forward, but for non-contact sports to go forward with a set of guidelines.”
Cohen did not say what those guidelines would be.
NCHSAA spokesman James Alverson said in a news release that the organization has “been in communication with the Department of Health and Human Services concerning next steps for a return to athletic activities across the state.”
Alverson added that the NCHSAA would like to talk to its membership before making any final decisions about which sports would be allowed to return. The NCHSAA ended a “dead period” of allowing prep sports programs to participate in practices, games or skill development on June 1, but state and local school districts restrictions supersede any policy by the NCHSAA.
“Since we have not yet had an opportunity to discuss the guidelines mentioned by the governor and Dr. Cohen with a broader audience in our membership, we will spend the next several days discussing options, opportunities and best practices for resuming activity with our board of directors and sports medicine advisory committee, in addition to other stakeholder groups such as principals, athletic director, coaches groups, etc. These conversations will help us determine a more specific and detailed path forward.”
The National Federation of State High School Associations, which is the governing body that includes the NCHSAA, on May 19 released guidelines for reopening prep athletics. It classified the individual sports into three risk groups based on the risk of spreading COVID-19. Its guidelines are non-binding to the individual programs under the NCHSAA, which must follow guidelines from local governments and school districts first.
The highest risk classification includes football, wrestling, boys’ lacrosse and competitive cheer and dance.
The moderate risk sports include basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, gymnastics, field hockey, tennis, swimming relays, pole vault, high jump, long jump, girls’ lacrosse and 7-on-7 football.
The lower risk sports include individual running events, throwing events, individual swimming, golf, weightlifting, sideline cheerleading and cross-country running with staggered starts.
The guidelines for being brought back to the competitive fields and courts around the country were introduced by the NFHS in phases.
Phase one includes pre-workout screening for all coaches and athletes, including a temperature check. Another guideline includes limitations of no more than 10 people gathered together inside or outside with workouts conducted in groups of five to 10 people.
Hard surfaces should be wiped down before a workout and students should shower and wash clothes immediately upon returning home, and there should be no sharing of athletic equipment. All equipment should be cleaned before and after use.
Other Phase 1 recommendations include no weight lifting requiring a spotter and students should bring their own water bottles and should not be shared. Vulnerable individuals should not oversee or participate in any workouts, and social distancing should be observed.
Phase 2 recommends no changes from pre-workout screenings. The limitations on gatherings include no more than 10 people at a time inside. If locker rooms are used, six feet of social distance must be maintained at all times. Up to 50 individuals may gather outside for workouts.
Lower risk sports practices and competitions may resume. No towels, clothing or shoes can be shared.
Equipment such as bats, batting helmets, catcher’s gear must be cleaned after each use. Hydration and cleaning should stay the same as Phase 1.
Phase 3 gives clearance for moderate risk sports practices and competitions to begin. Hand sanitizer should be available at all games and practices.
Gatherings of 50 people indoor or outdoors is permitted, but social distancing should be observed when directly not practicing or in a game.
Any player who has had a fever or cold symptoms show not be allowed to participate. A record of all individuals present should be kept. All vulnerable individuals can resume interactions, but should practice social distancing.
Moderate risk sports may begin practices and games. Equipment such as bats, batting helmets and catchers’ gear should be cleaned between each use.
Other equipment, such as wrestling ear guards, football helmets and other pads, lacrosse helmets and other pads should be worn by just one individual. Modified practices may begin for higher risk sports.
Students should bring their own water bottle and should they should not be shared. Hydration stations may be utilized, but must be cleaned after every practice and game.
Cooper expressed his wish that sports on the prep level can return on a safe level.
“Sports are so important to the formation of character and fitness,” Cooper said. “I love sports, grew up participating in sports teams all the way through high school. I know how important they can be for the education of children. This is something we want to have happen as much as we can as we approach the school year. At the same time we have to understand the presence of COVID-19. Our staff is working closely with the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.”