Sep 2, 2020
Raring To Go: A Snapshot into 2 Schools Attempting to Resume Athletic Activities
Wesley Sykes, managing editor

With schools and organizations rearing to resume athletic activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic — with some having already begun playing live games — ensuring the safety of coaches, student-athletes and staff members is priority number one for athletic administrators and trainers. 

Following mass moratoriums, cancellations, postponements, and stoppages of all kinds in light of the viral pandemic, the process of resuming athletics has been staggered across the country with different regions at different stages. 

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) released a series of guidelines and recommendations for its 51-member state high school organizations to consider back on May 21 as schools prepared for the reopening of high school athletics. And much like the White House’s guidelines to reopening, the NFHS’s recommendation consists of three phases that should be reached until a full return to sports while splitting all high school sports into three categories based on risk level. 

athletic
Photo: AFN Benelux / Creative Commons

Low-risk sports are defined by the NFHS 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 of that include running events like cross country, individual swimming, and golf. Moderate-risk sports include basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, hockey, and other sports “that involve close, sustained contact, but with protective equipment in place that may reduce the likelihood of respiratory particle transmission.” High-risk sports include wrestling, football, boys’ lacrosse, competitive cheer, and other sports “that involve close, sustained contact between participants.”

Many colleges and universities have resumed on-campus, voluntary strength and conditioning sessions with the NCAA Division 1 Council allowing student-athletes to resume activities on June 1. And the results, so far, have been mixed. On June 12, just 11 days after resuming voluntary workouts, the University of Houston athletic department once again suspended all activities after six student-athletes from varying sports tested positive for COVID-19, according to a report from ESPN. Another report from USA Today noted that eight Alabama football players, 28 Clemson student-athletes, and 30 LSU players tested positive. 

The Kansas Jayhawks football team has conducted 86 tests on student-athletes and 110 more on staff members in the first month of resuming activities and only one player tested positive. The University of Iowa reported only three positive results compared to 343 negative tests. 

To defy the old adage, what is good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. Below is a look into two schools to see where they are in the process of resuming athletics in their respective regions. 

Massachusetts

In the Bay State, there’s plenty of athletic directors operating on military time — hurry up and wait. 

“I think we’ve been one of the slowest states in the nation for reopening. I think we were the last state to reopen golf courses,” Neil Murphy, administrator of athletics at Sandwich (MA) High School. “We’re definitely behind a lot of other states. The powers that be are being very cautious.” 

Though Massachusetts entered “Phase 3” of the state’s reopening plan on July 1, when summer leagues for baseball and softball can be resumed to a degree, Sandwich High School already had begun the steps of setting up a strength and conditioning off-season camp for its student-athletes. 

For student-athletes in grades seven through 12, as well as any school district staff, could sign up for the Blue Knights Summer Strength & Conditioning Camp with its athletic trainer and strength & conditioning coach, Jillian DeCuffa. The camp focuses on strength and conditioning, speed and agility, flexibility and mobility, reactive and land mechanics, and injury prevention. 

“We had lots of hurdles to clear, with every decision having to follow the guidelines from our governor, our local guidelines, and be approved by our town’s Board of Health department,” Murphy said. “We’re trying our best to put our kids in the best position to succeed while also being concerned about their social and mental health. We’re doing the best we can.” 

The camp takes place four days a week through August 20 with sessions taking place on its outdoor field turf and indoor gymnasium. Groups of 10 are permitted provided they can maintain adequate social distancing, equipment will be cleaned between each session in addition to nightly sanitizing sessions from the schools’ facilities department.

Though masks are not required during physical activity if they are socially distanced, everyone in attendance is required to have some sort of face-covering on them. And Murphy noted that regular hand washing, either with soap and water or hand sanitizer, must be done before and after each session. 

All participants have to be cleared physically before taking part in the camp. In order to be cleared the athletics department must have a valid copy of an updated physical. 

“We’ve been living in a land of hypotheticals for the last three months or so, we have to have a plan for everything despite not having a ton of flexibility,” Murphy said. “It’s an unprecedented situation and definitely difficult to navigate.” 

Michigan

The flagship university in the Great Lakes State, University of Michigan, has done an effective job of keeping its positive tests among student-athletes and staff members through a rigorous protocol. 

Its return-to-campus plan consists of four phases, including a 14-day pre-report risk assessment, a six-day resocialization period to campus, and daily risk assessments like temperature checks. 

Student-athletes from the football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball programs have been in voluntary strength and conditioning sessions since June 15. Daily screenings are held for student-athletes and staff before being allowed into the facilities and are given items like masks and personal sanitizers. All facilities on the athletic portion of campus follow rigorous cleaning and sanitization sessions, including high-risk areas like locker rooms, weight rooms, training rooms via electrostatic sanitation devices. 

“Our protocols and plans have been developed by medical experts from across U-M’s campus, who have collaborated with officials at the local, state and national levels,” Warde Manuel, the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics said in an issued press release from the school. 

The second phase involved the student-athletes from the remaining fall sports programs, such as men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis, and volleyball.

And the results, for the most part, have been positive. As of July 7, the university had tested 514 student-athletes and staff members. Of the 375 student-athletes, only four have tested positive for COVID-19 while there have been zero reported cases among the 139 staffers tested since the campus was re-opened in mid-June, according to an article from the Detroit Free Press. 

 “We continue to take the utmost care to ensure that all student-athletes and staff return to a safe and healthy environment,” Manuel said in the release.




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