By Wil Crews
Last Thursday, the Alabama High School Athletic Association held a virtual press conference to lay out the guidelines for 2020 high school sports. Alabama high school sports have been allowed to practice since June 4 but public concerns surrounding the viability and safety of fall sports have been mounting. The press conference, which lasted about 45 minutes, included messages from Executive Director Steve Savarese and Assistant Director Denise Ainsworth, addressed frequently asked questions and explained a plan for the return of fall sports.
AHSAA released a nine page return to play “best practices” document on Wednesday, outlining its plan, but stressed that no decisions were final and to expect changes as new information regarding the coronavirus is received.
“Sports this season will not be normal,” Savarese said. “… [but] we’re planning on having a full schedule.”
Savarese began the conference by stressing the importance of education and the chance to partake in extracurricular activities. He then thanked Gov. Ivey for her mandated mask order, citing the reduction in cases in Montgomery county, before passing the stage off to Ainsworth, who spoke at length about the organization’s plan.
Ainsworth informed Alabamians of AHSAA’s modifications to the cross country, volleyball, swim and football seasons.
“None of us have all the answers, but this is our answer,” Ainsworth said.
- Cross Country: the course should be widened at least six feet where feasible and those on the sideline should wear masks. The rest of the cross country modifications can be found at www.ahsaa.com/Portals/0/PDF’s/AHSAA/Contingency%20Plans/Cross%20Country%20Modifications%206-25-20.pdf?ver=gvOsH93PtK0EVCyFjd1IhA%3d%3d.
- Volleyball: at meets, bench changing protocol will be suspended and the pre-match conference will be moved to center court, with only the coaches meeting instead of captains. The rest of the volleyball modifications can be found at www.ahsaa.com/Portals/0/PDF’s/AHSAA/Contingency%20Plans/2020-21%20Volleyball%20Rules%20Modifications.pdf?ver=gvOsH93PtK0EVCyFjd1IhA%3d%3d.
- Swim: athletes are required to arrive at the venue already in their competitive attire, the number of people allowed at the pre-meet conference will be reduced and all takeoff judging will be done from the sides of the pool. The rest of the swimming and diving modifications can be found at www.ahsaa.com/Portals/0/PDF’s/AHSAA/Contingency%20Plans/2020-21%20Swimming%20and%20Diving%20Modifications.pdf?ver=gvOsH93PtK0EVCyFjd1IhA%3d%3d.
- Football: the players’ box will be extended to stretch from the 10 yard line of both ends of the field, charged timeouts are extended to two minutes and only one captain representing each team is allowed at the coin toss. The rest of the football modifications can be found at www.ahsaa.com/Portals/0/PDF’s/AHSAA/Contingency%20Plans/Football%20Rule%20Modifications%20for%20COVID-19%207-21-20.pdf?ver=gvOsH93PtK0EVCyFjd1IhA%3d%3d.
The press conference continued with an explanation of the modifications and the other aspects that go into fall athletics including: communication, contracts between schools, contests, contingency plans, facilities, ticketing, transportation, locker and dressing rooms, game day management, auxiliary participants and officials. AHSAA went on to say that many of the specifics of how to best carry out these modifications will be left up to the individual school and school systems.
Still, the organization explained that all schools will have the option to begin fall practices starting July 27. On multiple occasions, Savarese also expressed that ultimately, the decision to let students play fall sports lies with the parents. The details of these changes and the document in full can be found at www.ahsaa.com/Portals/0/Board%20Approved%20Document-Best%20Practices%20for%20Return%20to%20Play.pdf.
A frequently used word in the press conference was “mitigate,” as AHSAA emphasized that there is no way to ensure that fall athletics will be 100 percent safe.
“Practice the mitigation processes that you have heard for four months,” Ainsworth said. “Wear a mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing and clean.”
Lastly, Savarese took the stage to answer many of the frequently asked questions that had been submitted to AHSAA over the past months. He concluded by encouraging patience and cooperation from all of Alabama.
“No one is wrong regarding their opinion on COVID-19,” he said. “I want to ensure that this association respects each and every one of your opinions. I want you to also respect ours, and our central board of controls, in providing an opportunity for our students. If a parent is not sure whether they want their student to participate, we truly understand, but please, all of you, practice the guidelines put forth by our medical advisors; practice the guidelines put forth by our governor, so our kids can have a future. If we all do what’s asked of us, then we will have an opportunity to return to a sense of normalcy.”