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Suburban Conference votes in favor of playing fall sports

Bill Althaus
The Examiner

The Greater Kansas City Suburban Conference will have fall high school sports – as of now.

The 27 member schools, including the seven in Eastern Jackson County, have voted unanimously to allow all fall sports, including football, to move ahead as planned despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote, which began Friday and concluded Monday, also allows the sports of boys soccer, softball, volleyball, boys and girls cross country, girls golf, boys swimming and diving and girls tennis to go ahead, barring any more setbacks with the pandemic.

The vote was not in step with the Jackson County Health Department’s recommendation that all schools should not start until after Labor Day and postpone all activities.

But local officials were happy with the conference’s decision, including Blue Springs Superintendent Paul Kinder, Independence Superintendent Dale Herl and Grain Valley Superintendent Marc Snow, who all voiced beforehand that they would vote in favor of playing.

“I’m thrilled the Suburban Conference districts voted in favor of fall sports,” Independence Superintendent Dale Herl said. “The Independence School District is dedicated to having fall sports because it is so important to our students and their parents.”

The conference, in announcing the vote, also set forth recommended guidelines for participating and spectators, though the districts will have the final say for their schools in accordance with their local health guidelines.

“I am pleased with the outcome of the conference decision, as I feel strongly that the responsible oversight of our member schools will give our student-athletes the best opportunity for safe competition,” Raytown School District Superintendent Alan Markley, the president of Greater Kansas City Suburban Conference’s Executive Directors, said in a press release. “Our member schools have worked hard to implement health and safety protocols to keep our students, staff, and fans safe during practices and competitions. 

“From cleaning equipment to precautions associated with safe hydration, to transporting students to and from contests, our schools are considering all factors to safely navigate this important part of our student experience.”

Athletes, coaches, sponsors and spectators will be required to wear masks when indoors, including during volleyball matches. The conference executive committee also recommends they wear masks outdoors if they are unable to socially distance or are not in strenuous activity.

Each high school will be responsible for attendance at its home events, using local guidelines. Visiting teams will be allowed two tickets per person per participant. Teams will be limited to 60 athletes per sideline. Participants include coaches, cheerleaders and dance teams. Participation of bands will be decided by each district. Spectators will not be charged a fee for regular season conference contests.

According to the press release, schools will be required to contact local health departments when an athlete or a coach has a positive test and will need to follow the local health department’s guidance on how to proceed, including a probable 14-day quarantine. Schools will also need to contact opposing schools and notify them of a positive test. Contests in which a team is unable to play because of COVID-19 wll be considered a “non-game.” If a team chooses not to play when all other conditions are considered safe, it will be a forfeit.

The conference also discouraged any preseason jamborees, post-game handshakes and asked that teams gather and travel in as small groups as possible. The conference also encouraged rescheduling any virus-related postponements, with conference games taking precedence over nonconference games if time does not allow all to be played.

“We understand that this upcoming school year will not look like the traditional school year, but we are confident that we can all come together to make it successful for all,” Markley added.

The unanimous decision thrilled Blue Springs South softball coach Kristi Williams, whose teams have won the last two Class 4 state championships. She remains cautiously optimistic.

“That’s great news,” Williams said. “At least for a while we’re not going to be looking over our shoulders, wondering what is going to happen. But all you have to do is look back at what happened in the spring (when all events were canceled) to know it can change at any time.”

Grain Valley football coach David Allie was happy to hear his team will be playing Friday when it travels to Smithville for its season opener.

“It looks like we’re playing Friday night, we’re excited about that,” Allie said, “and all any of us have ever asked for is a chance. Give us a chance, let us play a couple of games and see what happens.”