Wednesday, 20 May 2020 06:00

NFHS addresses return to play, suggests three phases and rates sports by risk

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FILE PHOTO: Rising seniors Bradford Pittman (left) and River Meacham (right) work out during summer drills last year. FILE PHOTO: Rising seniors Bradford Pittman (left) and River Meacham (right) work out during summer drills last year. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

INDIANAPOLIS — Drastic steps are being taken at the national level to try and ensure high school athletics return safely and in full force for the upcoming academic year.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the nation’s national governing body over high school athletics, released a 16-page document on Tuesday detailing precautions and offering guidelines for states across the nation to safely resume interscholastic play.

The press release served as a general outline for its 51-member body, which the North Carolina High School Athletic Association is a part of. The NCHSAA barred the playing of sports, as well as practices and meetings, on Friday, March 13.

According to the press release, creating the guidelines to combat the coronavirus and help get coaches and players back on the field was the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC). 

The 15-member panel is composed of “medical doctors, certified athletic trainers, high school coaches and officials, research specialists and state high school association executives.”

The release also stated that Michael Koester, M.D., and chair of the NFHS SMAC, “stressed that the guidance developed by the committee is intended as ideas for state associations to consider with their respective sports medicine committees and state health departments in designing return-to-activity plans that will be in accordance with state or local restrictions.” 

Although the statement was filled with several crucial and phased guidelines, such as pre-workout screenings, limitations on gatherings, the cleaning of athletic facilities and not sharing equipment and hydration, the NFHS’ document is simply a guideline -- not a set-in-stone instruction manual.  

Noting that states across the country are in varying stages of “reopening” social life, businesses and restaurants, among other institutions, the NFHS knowingly devised its plan to allow state athletic associations to begin lifting dead periods based on the pandemic’s impact, rise and decline in different areas.

Currently, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper plans to open Phase Two on Friday, which would open more businesses across the state, as well as lift the shelter-in-place order he put into effect on May 8.

“It is important to be clear that this is guidance for individual states to consider as they return to activities this fall,” said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director, in the release. “States will utilize the guidance in this document as it best fits their state after consulting with local and state health departments.” 

Another key element of the proposed plan by the NFHS was determining “higher risk, moderate risk and lower risk” sports. The groups were designed with the idea of how likely the coronavirus could potentially be transmitted between student-athletes, coaches and anyone associated with the programs at sporting events, practices and meetings.

Several sports that are played at Richmond Senior High School fall into the three separate categories. Per the NFHS document:

HIGHER RISK: sports that involve “close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers, and high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants.” 

This would include the Raider football and wrestling teams, as well as the cheerleading team at competitive events.

MODERATE RISK: sports defined to “involve close, sustained contact, but with protective equipment in place that may reduce the likelihood of respiratory particle transmission between participants OR intermittent close contact OR group sports OR sports that use equipment that can’t be cleaned between participants.where less contact is made.”

Richmond teams in this category are the Raider and Lady basketball, soccer and tennis teams, the Raider baseball and Lady Raider softball teams, the Lady Raider volleyball program and 7-on-7 football scrimmages during the summer.

Swimming relay races, and field events like the high jump and long jump, are considered moderate risk. 

Baseball, softball, soccer, tennis, volleyball and the jumping events could be “considered lower risk with appropriate cleaning of equipment and use of masks by participants.”

LOWER RISK: these are written as “sports that can be done with social distancing or individually with no sharing of equipment or the ability to clean the equipment between use by competitors.”

Examples for Richmond student-athletes include individual running events for indoor and outdoor track, throwing events (javelin, shot put, discus), individual swimming races, Raider and Lady Raider golf, sideline cheerleading and Raider and Lady Raider cross country running (by using staggered starts.)

The NFHS includes a three-phase breakdown of how the SMAC would advise state associations, athletes and coaches to begin with workouts, practices and games once state and local governments, including school districts in North Carolina’s case, give the go-ahead to begin.

“The NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee utilized recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as some return-to-play considerations by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), in formulating this guidance document for re-opening athletics and other activities in our nation’s schools,” Niehoff said in the release.

The full press release from the NFHS can be found here:

For further information on the three phases and what each phase entails, click the link below.

This is a developing story and the Richmond Observer will follow up on any updates from the NFHS, the NCHSAA, as well as Gov. Roy Cooper’s office and Richmond County Schools.

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 May 2020 06:14

Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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