Most decisions around high school athletics this fall during the coronavirus pandemic will be made by local school districts, according to recommendations released Thursday by the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA).
AHSAA officials say the guidelines are fluid and will be updated as officials learn more about the virus.
“Everyone should understand sports this season will not be normal,” AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said in a press conference.
The plan is based on the fall season starting as scheduled with competitions beginning as early as August 20. Savarese said there is no one-size-fits-all approach, so the plan gives local school systems flexibility. He said there’s no penalty for schools to opt out of competitions as the pandemic’s severity changes.
“We understand schools may have to start and stop, delay [and] play at a later date, schedule and reschedule,” Savarese said.
The decision to play high school sports as scheduled comes as a number of school districts have announced plans to start the school year virtually with no in-person instruction. Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa and Selma are among the school systems to make that move. Others will offer both online and in-person learning. Savarese said students will be able to participate in athletics regardless of the model school systems have chosen.
The recommendations largely mirror public health guidance to wear face masks, practice social distancing and maintain good cleaning practices. For instance, the AHSAA recommends the player box be extended on the sidelines at football games to allow for social distancing. Host schools should offer clean locker rooms, and if social distancing is not possible, develop other arrangements. The AHSAA said swimmers should arrive at meets dressed to compete. Face masks are recommended when not at play.
Savarese said any decision to restrict fans would be made by local schools, but he recommended accommodating bands and cheerleaders before fans.
Some states have delayed their seasons. Georgia pushed back high school sports for two weeks. But Savarese said the AHSAA board decided against that to allow for at least a limited season, should it be cut short because of an outbreak. He said that would also allow winter and spring sports to start on time. The pandemic abruptly ended spring sports last school year.
“I know our students are excited about the opportunity to return to a sense of normalcy, and that is our goal also,” Savarese said.