While the Kansas State High School Activities Association continues to deliberate a start date for fall sports, the association released comprehensive, sport-by-sport health guidelines to the public on Wednesday.
KSHSAA’s mitigation strategies against the COVID-19 pandemic are considerations — schools are encouraged to adopt the recommendations but they are not mandated by the state.
Parsons High School Athletic Director hopes all schools in the state implement the considerations.
“That’s important if we want athletics back,” Barcus said. “We’ve got to do exactly what we’re supposed to do.”
Many of the guidelines for practices mirror steps schools have taken to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus during summer workouts. Guidelines from KSHSAA include personal hygiene, signs and information made available about healthy practices and screening protocols. The association is also stressing that each player have their own water bottles and equipment without sharing.
Frequent sanitation and washing of equipment is another focus point for KSHSAA.
“We’ve had an opportunity to practice these guidelines,” said Cherryvale High School Athletic Director Rodney Vigil. “KSHSAA gave us some acclimation at the start of the summer. These guidelines are a part of that.”
KSHSAA also has recommendations for each sport. Mask-wearing by players while on the field or court isn’t required.
By and large, the association wants sports to avoid large tournaments. For sports like volleyball and girls tennis, which frequently attend tournaments with a dozen or more schools, schedule reconfiguration could be on the horizon.
“Obviously we’re going to have to re-examine our entire schedule,” Barcus said. “There will obviously be scheduling issues. I’m sure here in the SEK League, when we meet after KSHSAA comes out with its plan for fall sports, we’ll figure things out.”
KSHSAA’s only recommendations for fan attendance in all sports are mask-wearing and social distancing. The association will leave attendance restrictions up to schools, which are asked to coordinate with local health departments.
“Everything is a consideration,” Vigil said. “All of this is preliminary. A lot of them are certainly doable and we can still have sports. We’ll try to implement as many of them as possible. If that gives us the opportunity to play, you do it.”
For high school football in Kansas, mask-wearing for game personnel as well as social distancing whenever possible are the points of emphasis for KSHSAA.
The association recommends keeping non-essential personnel off sidelines and practice fields. Schools are asked to consider using staggering locker room guidelines to minimize the number of athletes congregating.
Timeouts have been extended from one minute to two minutes to promote proper hydration from players using individual water bottles. It’s also recommended that equipment including practice jerseys be sanitized daily. Game personnel, including coaches and the chain crew, are also asked to wear masks.
“Our kids have been wearing masks at camp but they don’t have helmets on,” said Labette County Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Sean Price. “We only have managers touching water bottles. We have hand sanitizer out there and we’re washing our hands frequently. We just want to play sports, so we’ll do everything we can to keep our kids safe.”
Masks or other approved face coverings are allowed to be worn by players during a game.
“If a parent or kid isn’t comfortable, get them a mask,” Price said. “It’s so humid early in the season so they fog up. I’m curious how any face shields would work. I have the same questions a lot of coaches have.”
KSHSAA will also allow schools to extend the player box on the sidelines from the 25-yard lines on each side to the 10-yard lines.
“That’s a good idea,” Price said. “Maybe for us, it’s not a big deal because we don’t have daunting numbers. You get a school that dresses 60, you’ll have three-to-four large groups of kids. This will allow them to spread out. It’ll help teams follow the social distancing aspect.”
Jamborees are also discouraged by KSHSAA for the fall.
“We’ll meet with our league athletic directors next Friday and discuss all this,” Price said. “We feel like we need to be the same. “I’m OK with not having a jamboree. But we need to all be together on that as a league.”
KSHSAA also recommends modifying huddle formations from a circle to rows. The association says not huddling at all helps with social distancing.
“The only time we would ever come together would be on the sideline in between downs,” Price said. “If we need to eliminate that as well, we will.”
Other protocol for football includes avoiding handshakes between opposing teams before and after the game and only two captains per team for the coin toss.
The sport that could see some of the most radical changes in Kansas is volleyball. KSHSAA recommends teams not attend big tournaments and keep contest groupings to quads or smaller and that opponents come from neighboring districts.
“We host a big volleyball tournament and we travel to them,” Vigil said. “Our volleyball coach is our school nurse as well, so she understands the medical side of it. We’re talking about options of picking up additional, smaller matches. If we get away from the big Saturdays, we can set up some quad or tri-matches.”
Labette County volleyball coach Heather Wilson believes the recommendation to limit competitions to quads or smaller is wise.
“That’s a smart decision,” Wilson said. “I still think we can schedule some games with some compromise that is competition outside of our league. But not bringing eight teams to a tournament makes sense to me.”
However, the mad scramble that could take place over the next few weeks to redo schedules and fill matches lost from tournaments will be an obstacle.
“We play four tournaments. So we’ll have to get that rolling if that decision is made,” Wilson said. “We’ll have to find games or be really short. You need to have three, four, five schools talking at the same time and coordinating everything. How do we mitigate losing an eight-team tournament? I could see a lot of confusion.”
Other recommendations include suspending the pre-match coin toss and allowing the visiting to serve first in the first set, frequent sanitation of equipment and an elimination of pregame and postgame handshakes.
“We want to keep the kids safe and I think it’ll be a smooth transition,” Wilson said. “We’ve been doing a good job of considering those health guidelines and doing them on a day-to-day basis. We’d be doing this anyway.”
Girls golfers are recommended to have their own equipment. If the school owns or shares clubs and other equipment, KSHSAA recommends sanitation between each use.
In the event of bad weather during a tournament, coaches and golfers are asked to return to their respective vehicles rather than the clubhouse.
A shotgun start to tournaments, allowing all competitors to get on the course at one time, is also recommended to avoid clubhouse gatherings.
KSHSAA also recommends limiting nine-hole tournaments to 27 participants and 18-hole tournaments to 54 participants, which would allow three golfers per group.
In the postseason, KSHSAA will utilize tee times for tournaments. Teams are asked not to arrive until 45 minutes prior to their tee time.
KSHSAA also wants schools to eliminate awards and medal ceremonies after tournaments.
In the sport where social distancing is naturally practiced, KSHSAA recommends that girls tennis players wash their hands after each match.
Signage about social distancing and mask-wearing should be displayed at a site.
KSHSAA also recommends that score devices on courts be removed, each player use their own balls and that schools avoid large tournaments.
“We’ve posted some signs at both of our tennis facilities on how to be safe,” said Parsons tennis coach Jane Posch. “My biggest concern will be travel. When you get in a car with six teenagers, that’s a risk. Being out there playing at home, I don’t see any problems.”
Posch said most of the protocol KSHSAA recommends has already been practiced over summer workouts and lessons.
“We’re keeping everybody six feet apart even though we’re outside,” Posch said. “All the rules that KSHSAA released are rules we have already.”
Posch expects schools that may lose matches from tournaments to coordinate on potential make-up quads.
“That’s what you’ll do. Look at the teams that were at a tournament and see if they just want to come down for a quad,” Posch said. “Tennis is very doable.”
Post-match handshakes are also discouraged and the winning player or pair will take the balls to the score table and report the score.
While an outdoor sport with limited fan attendance, cross county could see major changes under KSHSAA’s health recommendations.
Schools are asked to consider not allowing spectators, limit the distance traveled for meets, a reduction in total meets , limiting the number of runners per school and staggered or wave starts to races rather mass starts. Limiting meets to four schools or less is also recommended by KSHSAA.
“We’re going to have to reconfigure our cross country meet for safety issues,” Price said. “We’ll meet with administration to discuss a lot of things. We’ve got some work to do. We’ve got some time to do it, though, and we’ll get that done.”
Other cross country recommendations include limiting congestion and contact with runners at the finish line, widening courses by six feet and other social distancing regulations. Masks and face coverings are permitted for runners.
According to KSHSAA recommendations, if a school is unable to compete due to health or COVID-19 concerns, no forfeit is required.
Teams are asked to schedule opponents close to their geographical area to reduce travel and only scheduling one competition per week. Shin guards should be sanitized after each use.
Masks and gloves are allowed for players and staff and practices should be conducted in pods of the same athletes rotating together.
Social distancing and mask-wearing by all competitors, coaches and staff except when competing on the mat is suggested by KSHSAA.
The association also suggests limiting events to quads or smaller and avoiding large tournaments. An awards ceremony can be held if social distancing can be maintained with coaches giving their own gymnasts their awards.
Supplies for a gymnast’s bag should include a reusable cloth face mask, grips, wristbands and braces, travel size spray bottle of water, personal hand sanitizer inside a plastic bag, disinfectant wipes, athletic tape, fingernail clippers, personal water bottles, shoes in a separate compartment and a gallon-sized plastic bag for personal chalk.
In competitive cheer events, cheerleaders will not be allowed to wear a mask if the routine involves stunting.
Any cheerleaders wearing masks during routines that involve tumbling must have the mask taped and secure.
Cherryvale cheerleading coach Hilary Cook said because her school district enforces mask-wearing for all athletes during workouts, her team can’t practice stunting.
“We’re just going over motions and cheers and learning some dances,” Cook said. “Anything we can do that allows us to stay six feet apart in formation without stunting. “We’re just focusing on the basics/ That gives us a chance to focus on the little things that judges look at in competitions.”
Other recommendations from KSHSAA include cleaning mats between practices and maintaining social distancing.
“We’re grateful at this point just to be able to do anything,” Cook said. “We were wondering if we were going to be allowed to cheer on our team. So we’re grateful to be able to do it. We’re still cheerleaders. We like stunting, but we’re there for our teams.”