Coronavirus requires changes in high school activities

By Dana Hess | For the S.D. Newspaper Association

BROOKINGS — No handshakes.

No high fives.

No awards ceremonies.

In the age of coronavirus, those are just some of the recommendations for fall high school activities approved Wednesday by the South Dakota High School Activities Association’s board of directors.

During a video conference meeting the board considered safety recommendations made by a 30-member task force of medical professionals and educators. Those recommendations covered the fall sports of golf, tennis, soccer, cheer and competitive dance, football and volleyball as well as fall arts activities including journalism, all-state chorus and orchestra and oral interp.

The 17-page document outlining the recommendations of the task force can be found at the association’s website at www.sdhsaa.com.

In addition to mandatory, optional and impermissible rule changes for each sport and activity, the task force offered overall principles for safety, keeping students active, screening procedures, a protocol for positive cases, new SDHSAA polices in the event of a forfeit or no contest, benchmarks for re-evaluation of the recommendations and guidelines for fan attendance.

In making rule modifications for each activity, the task force split them into low contact/risk, moderate contact/risk and high contact/risk categories.

Low risk sports are golf, tennis and cross-country. Moderate risk are soccer and volleyball with football, competitive cheer and competitive dance deemed as high risk.

In the fine arts, journalism and oral interp are considered low risk while all-state chorus and orchestra are considered high risk.

The final recommendation of the task force about all-state chorus and orchestra is not really final: “Due to the nature of the event (nearly 1,100 students from over 150 different schools), the task force recommends that SDHSAA staff further consider the all-state chorus and orchestra concert, examine the results of the pending NFHS aerosol study, and make a determination on that event at a later date.”

The task force offered guidance to schools on fan attendance at events based on a four-tier system. Tier 1 is open attendance in those communities with steady or decreasing cases. Tiers 2 and 3 would allow only parents and students to attend. Tier 2 notes a slow increase in cases in the community and Tier 3 would apply to those communities with a steady increase in cases.

In Tier 4, with a sharp increase in cases and hospitalizations in the community, no fans would be allowed to attend at a high school event.

“None of those are requirements,” said SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos. “We heard from some schools that wanted some guidance, especially on fan attendance. We just wanted to put an example out there.”

Swartos said schools may choose to go the opposite direction, starting with no fans and working their way up to larger crowds at events.

Since guidance on fan attendance may differ by school district, board chairman Craig Cassens of Faulkton said that communication between officials at the host school and the visiting school would be key.

The task force report also includes a COVID-19 participant/coach monitoring form. The checklist offers eight symptoms that may keep a player or coach from participating.

In the event a player, coach or official tests positive for COVID-19, a return to play form must be completed. The form calls for 10 days to pass after symptoms appear and that symptoms must no longer be present. Athletes are then allowed to return to play with an OK from their doctor. The doctor may also recommend that the player go through a minimum of seven days of increasing training activity before being allowed to participate again.

While the form was approved along with other task force recommendations, Swartos said some of the language in the form is still being tweaked “to make sure this is as clear as can be for medical providers.”

Swartos emphasized the need for assigned seating and masks to be used on team buses to aid in contact tracing.

“We really want to stress that,” Swartos said. “We really want to recommend that schools do that.”

Parker superintendent Donavan DeBoer, who sat on the task force committee, said he is really comfortable and pleased with the outcome because if there is going to be sports in schools, they have to have some sort of plan. 

“The decision was really if we are going to have it, what are we going to do to help not spread the virus. The only other alternative was to not have sports,” said DeBoer. 

He noted too that guiding principles will not stop the spread of this disease.
“You either have sports or you have social distancing. You can’t have both,” he said. 

As the school year looms near, with Parker’s start date set for Monday, Aug. 24, DeBoer said giving kids a “normal” school year is going to be difficult. 

“It is really important to try to make it as normal as possible, but again, I am realistic, how do you do that,” he asked.  

He noted that he doesn’t know what normal is, but that the students are going to accept whatever they do because they are resilient and that is how they are. 

“That’s the great thing about kids. They don’t hold or carry all this baggage. They roll with the punches and adapt,” said DeBoer. 

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