There is one overarching question looming over the minds of high school administrators, coaches and athletes right now.
What is the fall going to look like?
That’s a question MSHSAA communications director Jason West admits no one has a perfect answer to right now as Missouri gradually begins to reopen after a statewide stay-at-home order this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.
MSHSAA, along with school districts across the state, are using information from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials to gauge how to get high school athletes back for offseason summer leagues and conditioning programs while maintaining social distancing.
MSHSAA is relying on school districts to determine what’s best in their community over the summer.
“Our plans moving into the fall will depend on what local health officials have established and if there is anything established at the state level through the governor's office or DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education),” West said.
One source of information that will help school districts and MSHSAA prepare for reopening athletics this summer and this coming fall is the National Federation of State High School Associations’ 16-page document “Guidance for Opening Up High School Athletics and Activities,” which was released May 15. West and the rest of the MSHSAA board have used this as a conversation starter for how the organization approaches planning for the fall.
There is an abundance of information in the NFHS’s letter to state associations. Included is a three-phase plan for high school sports to reopen.
Phase one includes all coaches and students being screened for signs/symptoms before workouts with temperature checks, no gathering of 10 or more people inside or outside, and no locker room access, all while maintaining 6 feet of distance.
Phase two continues temperature screenings and social distancing protocols with increases in the number of athletes or coaches involved. Participation would still be limited to 10 people indoors but would grow to 50 individuals outside. Lower-risk sports such as cross country and individual track events could begin.
Phase three no longer includes temperature checks, but anyone with a fever or cold symptoms in the previous 24 hours wouldn’t be able to participate in any workout or contest. Gatherings up to 50 would be acceptable indoors and outdoors, while moderate sports like volleyball and basketball could begin practices and games. Higher-risk sports such as wrestling and football could begin modified practices under phase three.
MSHSAA was already applying some of these guidelines during the state basketball tournament in March before NFHS announced its official recommendations.
“We were screening all of the teams,” West said about the Show-Me Showdown for Class 1, 2, 3. “Anyone that came in with the team, as they entered the arena, and isolated anyone that registered a fever.”
There were plans in place to temperature check anyone with floor access the following weekend for Class 4 and 5 before those Show-Me Showdowns were ultimately canceled March 16.
West said things like increased cleaning of facilities, health screenings and limited fans may be part of fall sports this year.
“(Temperature checks) could be a possibility for schools to consider when they start having spectators at their venues,” West said. “But then we are talking about access to that equipment and that personnel that would be able to do that. That’s probably not going to be readily accessible to all the schools across the state.”
MSHSAA is working on different plans for each individual sport at this time and focusing on four different scenarios for each.
“One would be the status quo: Everything is great and we can move forward like we have every other year,” West said. “Another scenario is if we can have a contest but with no spectators involved. What does it look like if we can have a contest but have to limit the number of spectators? Then, what does it look like if we can’t have any contest whatsoever?”
West also discussed potential modifications to contests to adhere to social distancing. Cross country, for example, could stagger the starts of races or have athletes race on different days to prevent large crowds.
There are a lot of ongoing discussions, but ultimately MSHSAA is still in an information-gathering phase before determining concrete plans.
Much of what could be possible in the fall depends on what happens this summer.
“A large part of our plans are going to be based on the decisions of others,” West said. “For example, right now most schools in the state are in the summer; their school years have finished. … When a school wants to start their summertime activities, what we’ve emphasized is that you must follow your local health guidelines that have been put in place.”