Last week, the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) officially released its “Guidelines and Recommendations for Opening Sports/Activities” for the 2020-21 school year. Local school districts are now reviewing the “requirements and suggestions” on how students can safely put students back into competitions.
Three Rivers Publishing reached out to athletic directors in Cuba, St. James, and Steelville to see how each district will proceed with athletics and activities when classes resume in August. At this point, most are still in discussions on how to proceed.
Like school officials throughout the state, Cuba Athletic Director Ryan Bobbitt received the MSHSAA guidelines last week and has been reviewing them. He and new CHS Principal Sam Callis were still discussing plans as of Monday.
“A lot comes down to our county health official and her recommendations,” Bobbitt said, “but we plan on having fall sports competitions. As far as what capacity, I’m not sure yet.”
Included in MSHSAA’s recommendations is a tiered plan for who will be allowed to attend sporting events, ranging from players, coaches, and officials only to unlimited attendance for parents and fans. Those levels may be determined locally based on the severity of COVID-19.
“(People) won’t be happy (if we have to limit attendance), but at the end of the day it’s about the kids getting to compete,” said Bobbitt. “I hope to implement some sort of live-streaming service so people can still watch. I know it won’t be the same, but we will do our best with the situation.”
St. James Athletic Director Greg Harlan said his district is prepared to follow state and county requirements for hosting events.
“Spectators being able to attend activities is very much possible,” Harlan said. “The school district may have to set guidelines for attendance, such as requiring masks or social distancing seating. Currently there are no requirements for a maximum number of people placed on events. However, if the state or county would set a maximum number of people who can gather at one place our school would set limits on the number of attendees. And if required we would limit the individuals to essential game personnel only. I am being optimistic and certainly hope this is not the case. We are still hoping for as normal a season as possible.”
Harlan said St. James schools will be using CDC guidelines for cleaning and hygiene.
All players and coaches will be health screened prior to practices and games,” said Harlan. “Individuals who exhibit symptoms of possible illness will follow school protocols as addressed in the recent Reopening Plan Guidelines sent out to families by Dr. Johnson and the St. James Schools.”
Steelville Superintendent Mike Whittaker said Monday that he has not yet been able to fully review the MSHSAA guidelines as he is still working feverishly with his administrators and staff to formulate a plan to return to school. He will be meeting soon with Athletic Director Josh Booker to work on taking the required steps to ensure proper safety for sports and activities in the fall.
“We will be reviewing the document in detail this week,” said Booker. “There are so many things that are still up in the air as far as even school goes, so I’m not sure what we will do.”
Booker noted that the Gasconade Valley Conference athletic directors are planning to get together to discuss a return to competition and how each district will be handling sports.
“(We) will probably try to do something together as a conference as far as attendance at games and events,” said Booker.
In its guidelines, MSHSAA acknowledged a risk of coronavirus transmission will still be present to some degree as school activities begin in August and possibly through the 2020-21 school year. The organization said students and their families, along with school personnel must recognize these risks and implement best practices to reasonably mitigate these risks.
The following is a partial list of requirements and recommendations released by MSHSAA:
• When initiating practices/rehearsals, it may be reasonable to consider having groups that practice/rehearse together in smaller numbers to avoid the potential of large numbers of participants or coaches/directors having to quarantine if anyone tests positive for COVID-19. (Example: Have similar-position players/instrumentalists in different groups; have varsity and lower level teams in separate groups).
• Break into small groups for rest breaks and water breaks during practice. Do not congregate.
• When not directly participating in practices, rehearsals or contests, care should be taken to maintain current social distancing between each individual. Consider using tape or paint as a guide for students and coaches/directors.
• Before practices/rehearsals, track body temperatures (100.4 or greater) and symptoms of coaches, directors, staff, players, participants, etc. Temperature screening may be done at home, documented and presented upon arrival to the school. If home temperatures are >=100.4 the participant must stay home and not come to practice/rehearsals/competition. Temperature screening may be done upon arrival to the school, If a temperature is 100.4 or greater (recommend using a no touch thermometer) the individual should be moved to an indoor environment for five minutes prior to having the temperature retaken. If temperature remains at 100.4 or greater it indicates a positive screen.
• Every coach/director and participant is required to wear a mask or face covering until screening is completed, showing no signs or symptoms.
• If a participant, coach/director, or official/adjudicator has a positive finding on their COVID-19 screen, he/she should be sent home immediately. If the participant's parents are not present, escort the participant to a designated isolation room or an area away from others. He/she must wear a mask or face covering. The participant/coach/director is to be referred to a health care provider or a local COVID screening hotline.
• Written clearance by a healthcare provider, documentation of a negative test outcome or after a 14-day quarantine period (quarantine period starts from first positive screen) shall be required prior to return to participation.
• All participants who had close contact, direct contact with this individual, or a direct exposure to secretions (i.e. being coughed on up to 48 hours before they started showing symptoms) should be excluded from practice and play for 14 days.
• Athletic equipment such as bats, batting helmets and catchers gear should be cleaned between each practice or game. Other equipment, such as football helmets/other pads, lacrosse helmets/pads/gloves/eyewear, field hockey helmets/pads/gloves/eyewear, should be worn by only one individual and not shared.
• Masks or face coverings are REQUIRED for participants, coaches/directors and officials/adjudicators any time they are not doing strenuous physical activity. Wearing masks before activities and immediately following activities is REQUIRED, especially prior to screening.
• All participants should be required to bring and fill their own water containers/bottles. Water containers/bottles must not be shared.
• Schools need to consider social distancing requirements when scheduling contests and events for the fall sports/activities season. Social distancing (as required by state or local health department) will need to be maintained on buses/vans.
• Schools are encouraged to schedule more local/regional competition and avoid any competition that might require an overnight stay.
• Schools are encouraged to offer live streaming of games/contests/performances to reduce attendance at events so that current gathering size and social distancing can be met.
• Sidelines/benches/performance and participant areas: Social distancing guidelines established by local and/or state health departments will need to be maintained on sidelines/benches/performance and participant areas during contests and events. Consider using tape or paint as a guide for participants and coaches/directors.
• Who should be allowed at events? Group people into tiers from essential to non-essential and decide which tiers will be allowed at an event if local and or state health department guidelines restrict group sizes. Only Tier 1 and 2 personnel will be allowed to attend events until state/local health departments lift restrictions on mass gatherings. Tier 1 (Essential): Participants, Coaches/Directors, Officials/Adjudicators, Event Staff, Medical Staff, Security; Tier 2 (Preferred): Media; Tier 3 (Non-essential): Spectators, vendors.
The complete list of MSHSAA guidelines and recommendations can be viewed online at https://www.mshsaa.org/resources/PDF/2020-2021%20MSHSAA%20Guidelines-Recommendations%20for%20Opening%20Sports%20and%20Activities.pdf.
Preliminary Questions and Answers
The following four questions served as preliminary questions before further deliberation on this document:
Q: Will MSHSAA conduct sports/activities regular seasons or postseason events if schools are closed statewide to in-person learning (apart from regularly scheduled school breaks)?
A: If schools statewide are closed to in-person learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, MSHSAA will be unable to allow for either a regular season or a post-season series in MSHSAA sports and activities.
Q: Will MSHSAA conduct sports/activities regular seasons or postseason events if schools are closed only in COVID-19 "hotspots" in our state?
A: If a majority of schools are open for in-person learning, efforts will be made to administer a regular season and postseason for those schools/students who are permitted to do so based on the guidelines of the local and state health departments. In this scenario, MSHSAA does not intend to revoke the participation opportunities for students who are able to take part.
Q: Based on changing conditions in regard to the pandemic, would MSHSAA consider conducting a sports/activities regular season in sports/activities deemed "lower-risk" for COVID-19 transmission while canceling athletics/activities considered "higher-risk?"
A: As of July 1, the board of directors believes it would not be in the best interest of our state to pick and choose which sports/activities would be permitted to continue to have a season while at the same time restricting other sports/activities from continuing due to public health concerns. Throughout the year, the board will monitor and evaluate circumstances and consult with public health officials to make decisions in the best interest of all students.
Q: Might there be restrictions unique to our state—or regions of our state—that need to be taken into consideration when returning to activities and participation?
A: Yes. Since it is possible to have different areas of our state following a different set of guidelines/restrictions/allowances, it is quite possible that not all schools in Missouri will return to sports/activities at the same rate or under the same expectations, and some may need to halt participation during the year for a period of time if conditions warrant.
Q: Our school has decided to offer only virtual education this fall due to concerns by our health department and/or community/parents regarding the spread of infection. Will we be able to offer sports and activities in conjunction with that educational plan?
A: If you are only offering virtual instruction with no face-to-face education, either temporarily or for the semester/year, you may not offer sports and activities during that period. Sports and activities are irrevocably and appropriately intertwined with education provided in the school building. The MSHSAA Constitution defines a school, in part, as being organized to deliver instruction to students who report to a common location. If conditions are such in your local area that you are unable to safely bring students to a common location for instruction, bringing students together for practice and competitions is inappropriate.