Acknowledging that there is nothing normal about the upcoming fall sports season, Alabama High School Athletic Association Executive Director Steve Savarese today laid out the association’s best practices for a return to competition.
“We cannot think in normal terms,” Savarese said. “Our board has provided schools flexibility to play, 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.
“We understand schools may have to start and stop, delay play at a later date, schedule and reschedule,” he continued. “But schools will have the autonomy of when to allow their teams to participate. As we all realize, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to this health conundrum.”
The Alabama High School Athletic Association Central Board of Control approved the AHSAA’s Return to Play Best Practices recommended guidelines Wednesday and reaffirmed plans to start fall sports on time. The action was taken at its annual summer meeting in Montgomery.
Fall sports teams have the option to begin workouts July 27 with the first week used by football for acclimation purposes only, with helmets and shorts only. Other fall sports – volleyball, cross country, and swimming and diving – can use the first week for acclimation and tryouts.
Schools that choose not to start on July 27 can begin fall practice on Aug. 3. The first contest can be Aug. 20.
Savarese thanked the Central Board for providing the flexibility needed for students “to have some semblance of fall activities. As educators, the board also realized the emotional, mental, social and physical well-being of not providing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for students. That is why it’s essential that everyone do their part to mitigate the risk of the virus, enabling our students to have as normal a childhood as possible.”
Assistant Director Denise Ainsworth highlighted several aspects of the 11-page document that spells out the road map high school athletic programs will use this fall.
“I’m sure you would agree that none of us have all of the answers. No one does,” she said. “But this is our answer. We want to get our kids back to a normal life as safely as possible. We want them to enjoy the benefits of athletics and an education.”
Among the recommendations for this fall:
- Widen cross country courses to at least 6 feet where feasible.
- Suspend the practice of changing benches in volleyball while also moving the pre-match conference to center court. Team captains, who had been part of that conference, will not be included this season.
- Competitors in swimming and diving events will arrive at the venue dressed in their competition attire. Additionally, takeoff judging will be done from the side of the pool to allow for social distancing.
Football recommendations include:
- The player box, where players stand on the sideline, will be extended to the 10-yard lines to allow more distancing. The coaching box is not extended.
- Timeouts will be two minutes to allow more time for the use of individual water bottles.
- Only one captain will represent his team for the coin toss.
Savarese and Ainsworth said restrictions on who can attend games will be determined by individual schools. They said they are looking forward to the Alabama Department of Public Health providing guidance for attendance at athletic events.
The executive director said he has fielded calls from parents of cheerleaders who want to know where their daughters and sons will be able to cheer.
“We do not govern cheerleading and band, but we encourage all school systems to provide an opportunity for the band to participate and for cheerleaders to be part of the contest in accordance with local school policy,” he said. “We encourage administrators to find a place for (cheerleaders) and work with your football teams to find a safe environment, not only for the band, but for cheerleaders.”
Ainsworth noted that host schools are expected to provide space where teams can dress and adhere to proper social distance. She recalled her days as a school administrator when her school could not have provided that space.
The assistant director said teams may need to travel to game sites already dressed for play or possibly dress in shifts. Responding to questions, Savarese said coaches and game officials will be urged to wear face masks during play.
While today’s press conference was designed to address questions about fall sports, Savarese also was asked about the likelihood of winter and spring sports.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said. “I pray every day that we’re able to finish our sports seasons and our kids will experience the opportunities that sports provide them this fall, and that we can move into winter sports. But, as I said when I started, we base our decisions on current information and if information changes, we’ll adjust accordingly. Prayerfully, we will have a winter sports season.”
The executive director also dismissed the notion of moving fall sports to the spring, calling that move unconscionable.
“Last spring, what happened to our spring sports, hopefully will never happen again,” he said. “We will have fall sports in the fall, as much of a season as possible, not knowing what the future holds. Also, our medical advisory board has advised us to not have back-to-back football seasons (with) play in the spring, workout in the summer and play again in fall. They highly advise us against that for health and safety reasons.”
To read the AHSAA’s complete Best Practices for Return to Play guide, click below: