Moving forward

The AHSAA continues to develop plans for how schools should conduct the upcoming football season. Pictured are Handley players Nate Pike (9), Jake Cottle (59) and Ahmad Staples (50) in a game last season.

MONTGOMERY – The AHSAA met with its Fall Sports and Football Coaches’ Committees Tuesday through an online virtual meeting and heard updates from the AHSAA Medical Advisory Board Committee and the Alabama State Department of Education.

ALSDE State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey gave a brief update concerning the Roadmap to Reopening Schools plan. AHSAA Medical Advisory Board chairman Dr. James Robinson and board member Dr. Jeffery Dugas updated the committees on most recent data and best practices relating to high school sports activities.

According to Handley head coach Larry Strain, who is a member of the Football Coaches Committee and was present at Tuesday's virtual meeting, the recommendations from the medical professionals were encouraging for anyone who is fearful that the season may be in jeopardy.

“They actually believe that a football practice and a game is safer than turning your kids loose and having no school or having no practice,” Strain said.

The logic is that a school or a football program will provide a regimented, controlled environment with safeguards in place, while those things cannot be assured if a student were not attending.

The medical portion of the meeting also saw a recommendation that football players not be required to wear masks during the game or practice.

“They actually think you’re more likely to spread the virus by wearing a mask during the game than if you didn’t,” Strain said.

The reason is because the contact between players would most likely place a contagion on a player’s hands. And if that player is wearing a mask over his mouth, he would then use that hand to adjust that mask in between plays. That sort of contact would potentially create a greater risk of infection.

Also at Tuesday's meeting AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese, Associate Executive Director Alvin Briggs and the AHSAA executive staff discussed the upcoming fall sports season and current COVID 19 challenges that still loom ahead.

All of those discussions took place with the idea that there will in fact be a season. There was no discussion of canceling the season or moving it.

“They basically told us we were going to have a football season. It’s not going to be moved to the spring,” Strain said.

That doesn't leave the season without an element of uncertainty, however.

Infected or exposed players will be required to go into quarantine or isolation. A widespread outbreak could derail a team's season if that team doesn't have its full roster of players available.

“There very well may be vacated games,” Strain said. “There may be games where one school has an outbreak and they shut that school down. If they’re on my schedule then I will not be able to play that game that week. Most likely it’s going to be a forfeit.”

Committee members and the AHSAA staff discussed being proactive and the importance of continuing to be at the forefront of following best health and safety practices.

The details of those safe practices, particularly when it comes to game attendance, will be made on a school-by-school basis.

“They said as far as people coming to the stadium, that’s up to the owner of the stadium,” Strain said. “If it’s a city field the mayor will have control over it. If it is owned by the school board, then the school board will have control over how many people come. The athletic association is not going to determine how many people are in your stands.”

Mr. Savarese enlisted input from the committee members concerning options for fall sports play moving forward. The AHSAA plans to present any recommendations to the Central Board of Control for review and approval at the Board’s next meeting, which has been set for July 22.

Official football practice is scheduled to begin July 27, with the first week of games set for August 21.

“We are grateful to Dr. Mackey and Mr. (Terry) Roller of the ALSDE, and Dr. Robinson and Dr. Dugas of our Medical Advisory Committee for taking the time to join our committee meeting,” said Savarese. “And we appreciate the discussion and input we received from our own committee members.

“Our world would be in better shape concerning the recent increase in COVID cases if everyone followed the health and safety examples our coaches and administrators provide and practice daily.”

Later in the day Tuesday AHSAA assistant director Denise Ainsworth sent out a memo addressed to all athletic directors encouraging them to use a cashless, touchless ticketing policy for athletic events in the upcoming school year.

The main portion of the memo read:

“Schools across Alabama are adopting a new cashless, touchless ticketing policy for the 2020-21 school year events. COVID-19 has drastically altered how consumers pay and use technology. We highly recommend schools proactively prepare for these new fan expectations.

Our ticketing partners at GoFan have been working closely with AHSAA member schools to offer schools a turnkey solution to appropriately social distance your ticket gate and provide numerous contactless payment options for your events.

Some key benefits:

- Financial Transparency

- Enhance Safety & Security

- Limit Person-to-Person Interactions

- Minimize (or eliminate) Cash

- Better Fan Experience”

Quotes from Savarese and other information in this article were contributed by the AHSAA.

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