NFHS releases phased guidelines for return of high school athletics, identifies sports by risk

By Nick Stevens, HighSchoolOT managing editor

Indianapolis — In order for high school sports to resume amid the coronavirus pandemic, schools need to take restrictive measures to keep everyone safe, the National Federation of State High School Associations said Tuesday.

The NFHS, which is the national governing body of high school sports of which the N.C. High School Athletic Association is a member, released a set of guidelines on Tuesday aimed to allow for a safe return to play for high school athletics. The guidelines are very restrictive though, limiting the number of people that can participate and discouraging the use of any equipment.

While the NCHSAA is a member of the NFHS, it is not bound to these guidelines and can create their own.

“We have to emphasize that the document states these are guidelines and not intended to be the rule book for what we do in North Carolina,” NCHSAA Assistant Commissioner James Alverson said, adding that the document has already been shared with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

The NFHS said the guidance was developed to give state associations a starting point when they consider their own plans to return to play based on state and local restrictions.

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

NFHS Generic Graphic

The NFHS has identified sports that are lower risk, moderate risk, and higher risk for spreading COVID-19, with lower risk sports returning first, then moderate risk, and finally higher risk.

Lower risk sports include individual running events, throwing events, individual swimming, golf, weightlifting, sideline cheerleading, and cross country running with staggered starts.

Moderate risk sports include basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, gymnastics, field hockey, tennis, swimming relays, pole vault, high jump, long jump, girls lacrosse, and 7-on-7 football.

Higher risk sports include wrestling, football, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer, and dance.

Riverside High School at Green Hope High School - November 1, 20

The guidance, which involves a staged approach, allows for a variation in which sports will be allowed to play.

Phase 1:

  • Pre-workout screening: All coaches and athletes should be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 prior to workout, including a temperature check. Anyone who has positive symptoms should not be allowed to workout and should be referred to their doctor. Vulnerable people should not take part in workouts during the first phase.
  • Limitations on gatherings: No more than 10 people at a time, inside or outside. Locker room should not be used; students should report to workouts with proper gear and return home. Workouts should be conducted in groups of 5-10 students who will always workout together, smaller groups for weight training. A minimum distance of six feet should be maintained.
  • Cleaning: Cleaning schedules must be implemented. Hard surfaces should be wiped down prior to a workout. Hand washing should be practiced and hand sanitizer should be available for all. Students should shower and wash clothes immediately upon returning home.
  • Physical activity & equipment: No shared athletic equipment. No sharing of clothing. All equipment should be cleaned prior to and after each use. Individual drills using equipment are permissible but the equipment must be cleaned before the next person uses it. Free weight exercises that require a spotter are not permissible.
  • Hydration: Student should bring their own water bottlers and they should not be shared. Hydration stations (water cows, water troughs, water fountains) should not be used.

Phase 2:

  • Pre-workout screening: No changes from phase one.
  • Limitations on gatherings: No more than 10 people at a time inside. Up to 50 individuals may gather outdoors for workouts. If locker rooms or meeting rooms are used, six feet of social distance must be maintained at all times. Workouts should continue to be held in pods. Appropriate social distancing must be maintained, including on the sidelines and benches during practices. Schools should consider using tape or paint as a guide for social distancing.
  • Cleaning: No changes from phase one.
  • Physical activity & equipment: Lower risk sports practices and competitions may resume. Modified practices may begin for moderate risk sports. No shared athletic towels, clothing, or shoes. All equipment must be cleaned periodically during practices and contests. Hand sanitizer should be plentiful at practices and contests. Equipment such as bats, batting helmets, catchers gear should be cleaned between each use. Maximum lifts should be limited and power cages should be used for squats and bench presses. Spotters should stand at each end of the bar.
  • Hydration: No changes from phase one.

Phase 3:

  • Pre-workout/contest screening: Any person who has had a fever or cold symptoms in the previous 24 hours should not be allowed to participate. A record should be kept of all individuals present. Vulnerable individuals can resume interactions, but should practice social distancing.
  • Limitations on gatherings: Gathering sizes of up to 50 individuals, indoors or outdoors. When not directly participating in practices or contests, social distancing should be observed.
  • Cleaning: No changes from phase one or two.
  • Physical activity & equipment: Moderate risk sports practices and competitions may begin. No shared athletic towels, clothing, or shoes. Hand sanitizer should be plentiful at games and practices. Athletic equipment such as bats, batting helmets and catchers gear should be cleaned between each use. Other equipment, such as hockey helmets/pads, wrestling ear guards, football helmets/other pads, lacrosse helmets/pads/gloves/eyewear should be worn by only one individual and not shared. Maximum lifts should be limited and power cages should be used for squats and bench presses. Spotters should stand at each end of the bar. Modified practices may begin for higher risk sports.
  • Hydration: Students should bring their own water bottle and should not be shared. Hydration stations may be utilized but must be cleaned after every practice or contest.

According to the NFHS, the guidance was created by its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, which is made up of doctors, athletic trainers, coaches, officials, researchers, and state association executives.

The NCHSAA announced earlier this month that it will suspend the coronavirus dead period on June 1, however that does not mean sports in North Carolina will resume then. The NCHSAA said state and local governments, including the governor and local school districts, must first approve the resumption of athletics.

Football: NC State 7-on-7 Competition (June 14, 2019)

High school sports have not been played in North Carolina since Mar. 13. Spring sports were canceled after two weeks of the regular season and basketball state championship games were not played. Instead, the NCHSAA board of directors voted last month to name co-state champions in boys and girls basketball.

North Carolina is currently in phase one of Governor Roy Cooper’s three-phase plan to reopen the state. Some athletic facilities, such as gyms and fitness centers, will be permitted to reopen during phase two. Cooper has not yet announced when phase two will take effect.

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