After the Kansas State High School Activities Association laid out its guidelines for summer workouts on Friday, school districts are now tasked with working with state and local health departments to determine if, when and how the doors will open for weights and other programs in June.
KSHSAA’s summer outline, which was approved by its Board of Directors one day after Kansas Governor Laura Kelly released her four-phase plan to reopen the state’s economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, sets a clear timeline.
KSHSAA will allow schools to begin a 10-day acclimation period no earlier than June 1. There will be no summer moratorium as coaches will be allowed unprecedented contact with student-athletes after the association canceled all spring sports.
While KSHSAA gave its green light for June 1, which coincides with the earliest potential start date for Phase 3 of Kelly’s plan, districts will need a second go-ahead from county health departments.
“Everything is up to the county health department and the board of education,” Cherryvale High School Athletic Director Rodney Vigil said. “There will be some school districts that open up and some that wait it out. At the end of the day, we’re gathering information and ideas. Our number one concern will be the safety of our kids, patrons, staff and families.”
Parsons High School Athletic Director Rob Barcus said that USD 503 will adhere to guidelines established by the Labette County Health Department.
“Our superintendent is pretty up-to-date on the latest numbers and we’ll work hand-in-hand with the county,” Barcus said. “There will be no pressure from us to the county to open things up.”
Kelly’s plan to reopen Kansas maintains social distancing guidelines through all four phases, even with mass gathering restrictions being lifted in the final Phase Out process.
That presents challenges for coaches and athletic directors planning summer workouts. Weight rooms and gyms are limited by space and staying six feet apart during sports and other workouts is often unavoidable.
“Our board could very easily say that they don’t want anything opened and then everything is shut down,” Vigil said. “We have to discuss social distancing, the scheduling of the kids and the timeframes. Those are all things that we are taking into consideration.”
Barcus has an online Zoom meeting scheduled with his coaching staff at Parsons for Thursday in which they’ll discuss initial plans for a potential June start.
“We’re going to stay within state guidelines with the square footage we have,” Barcus said. “We can’t expand those walls. So we’ll come up with a plan to keep distance between kids. We know when you’re lifting, you have to have a spotter. So it’s going to be a little different.”
Vigil, along with virtually every other athletic director in the state, are in the infancy stages of preparing a viable summer plan.
“I got our coaches together and just gave them the information on what KSHSAA said and how it ties together with Governor Kelly’s plan,” Vigil said. “I gave them the guidelines and let them think about everything.”
Dependent on local health department guidelines, schools will likely screen student-athlete temperatures upon arrival to school facilities. That follows a precedent set by many gyms and recreation centers that will reopen as part of Kelly’s plan.
Barcus also intends to teach his coaching staff proper cleaning techniques for weight room equipment and other surfaces to be utilized between workout sessions.
“I will get with our custodial staff and they’ll show me and the coaches how to do it,” Barcus said. “That’s what I’ll expect our coaches to do. Our coaches will definitely be educated on how to sanitize and clean.”
Part of KSHSAA’s summer outline is a 10-day acclimation period that limits workouts to three hours for the first week than five hours in the second week.
“I’m going to stress that there’s no reason to go three hours that first day,” Barcus said. “I don’t know why you’d go three hours any day. We want to go an hour, maybe an hour-and-a-half.”
Keeping workout on a shortened time limit adds time to sanitize workout areas between sessions, added Barcus.
“That’ll give us time to disinfect stuff and try to get everybody through,” Barcus said. “It’s going to be hard to accommodate kids and coaches with summer schedules. Some kids have jobs. Some coaches do other things. So it’ll be interesting to see.”
Maintaining social distancing, staggering workout sessions and constant cleaning efforts adds more onus to already-overworked coaching staffs. But Barcus feels the enthusiasm to return to athletics will outweigh the added workload.
“Coaches are wired in a way where they want to be there for the kids,” Barcus said. “I’m expecting a big jump in numbers. Kids have been told not to do anything. So they’ll want to get out of their comfort zones when this is all lifted.”
Kelly’s plan is contingent on the continued decrease in rate of coronavirus cases throughout the state. That extends to school’s ability to hold summer athletics.
“These next three weeks are going to show whether or not we have spikes or whether we can go,” Vigil said. “It’ll be tough decisions made by everybody.”
Barcus also intends to proactively communicate the school’s plans to keep kids safe with the community.
“It’ll be through our social media sites and phone calls,” Barcus said. “We’ll do whatever we need to do to ensure parents that their kids will be safe. I know it’s a leap. As a parent, it scares me. I’m still worried about my kid coming and working out with 30 other kids. We just need to be open and honest with parents.”
Last week’s decision by KSHSAA to allow summer athletics was perhaps the first step in a statewide resumption of high school athletics. Counties across the state will be beholden to their own timelines set by county health departments.
But school districts across Kansas are revving up for the possibility that student-athletes will come back on campuses to get into shape for a potential fall season.
“It’s a risk versus reward,” Vigil said. “Safety has to be the number one concern.”