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Teams begin practice as AHSAA prepares way for fall sports

The Alabama High School Athletic Association Central Board of Control approved the AHSAA’s Return to Play Best Practices recommended guidelines Wednesday and reaffirmed plans to start fall sports on time.

The action was taken during the board’s annual summer meeting in Montgomery.

Fall sports teams may begin fall workouts July 27, with the first week used by football for acclimation purposes only, with helmets and shorts only. The other fall sports – volleyball, cross country and swimming and diving – can use the first week for acclimation and tryouts.

Schools not choosing that option may start fall practice Aug. 3. The first contest can be Aug. 20.

AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese praised the Central Board for its leadership and commitment to providing member schools the tools to return to play as safely as possible.

“The purpose of the Return to Play document is to offer AHSAA member schools best practices in order to commence the 2020-21 school year athletic seasons as scheduled and as safely as possible,” said Savarese. “Parents must make a personal choice in whether they allow their children to participate in extracurricular activities. Everyone must do their part if our children are going to have a chance at a normal childhood.”

He stressed the need for everyone to wear masks, social distance and clean regularly.

“Right now we’re planning on having a full schedule,” Savarese said, nevertheless noting several times that the AHSAA doesn’t know what the future holds. “If we can get in five games, eight games – nobody knows what tomorrow holds.

If there is a mandatory statewide shutdown of schools again, of course, fall sports will end at that time.

One contingency plan that has been mentioned at the college and high school level will not be considered – moving fall sports to the spring. Savarese said the committee will not make that recommendation because it is not fair to the spring sports that lost their seasons at the closure of school in March. He also said the medical advisory committee said it would not be in the best interest of the health of the student-athletes to play football in the spring and again so soon in the fall.

The decisions was welcome news to local coaches and teams, who are now well into practicing for the fall season. The thought of what could happen, of course, lingers in everyone’s minds.

“We have been told to try and front-end our schedule with area games in case something happens and we need to stop play,” said Belgreen volleyball coach Susie Tverberg. “We all saw what happened in the spring and, we don’t want it to happen again this year.”

But for right now, the focus is the season ahead.

“All of our guys were pretty eager to get out there and get going,” said Phil Campbell Coach Kevin Barnwell.  “We haven’t addressed any ‘what-ifs’ – we are moving forward like we are playing a normal season.”

Savarese and Denise Ainsworth went over several proposals and rule changes that will be implemented this fall, including:

  • Cross country: Lanes will be widened to 6 feet where feasible.
  • Volleyball: Protocol of swapping benches will be suspended, and officials will limit the number of people at the scorers’ table.
  • Football: Player’s box will be extended from 10-yard line to 10-yard line, and charged timeouts will be extended to two minutes.
  • Schools can play even if they start school remotely or virtually.
  • Volleyball needs to play area games as early as possible to help with championships.
  • Virtual/remote student can participate in athletics.
  • Once a school begins to participate in athletic contests in any declared sport, any games not played after the school begins participating will be a forfeit. Fines will not be assessed. If a school is not able to participate in a contest, the local superintendent must notify the AHSAA executive director in writing.

Savarese also addressed the use of masks. “We highly encourage officials and coaches to wear masks, as well as players when they’re not in the game,” he urged.

Even though the return of fall sports comes with unusual restrictions, cautious optimism prevails among coaches.

“We had a really good first day,” said Red Bay Coach Michael Jackson. “The players were excited. They know we have a game in three weeks, and they were ready to go.”

“We are just happy to be out here,” said  Tverberg agreed. “Everything has been so unpredictable, and it still is, but we are going to get out here and work hard and hope everything goes well this season. I know everyone is ready to get back to normal, but as you can tell looking at all the masks on these girls, we are not there yet.”

The AHSAA said gameday transportation protocols will be left up to the local school board – whether students ride a bus or in a car. If students ride a bus, facial coverings are “highly suggested,” as are bus seating charts.

The AHSAA also recommended gameday screenings of auxiliary personnel like band, cheerleaders, media, concession workers, ticket takers and others.

Savarese speculated the Alabama Department of Public Health will issue guidance later regarding fan attendance at sporting events. He said there will likely be some restrictions in place.

If fan restrictions are in place, Savarese said equal access should be granted to visiting teams by the home team. He also said cheerleaders and band should be given priority.

What about winter and spring sports? Savarese said, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

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