With less than a month until the first official competitions of the 2020-21 athletic year, the NCHSAA on Thursday released its most comprehensive coronavirus guidelines and sports protocol to date.
In the first copy of a 45-page “modified sports manual” that will be continuously updated via Google Docs, the association laid out detailed instructions for spectators and volleyball, cross country and swimming and diving events, among other changes.
The biggest news isn’t much of a surprise: when it comes to fans, the NCHSAA will defer to Gov. Roy Cooper and the state Department of Health and Human Services. That means, for now, high school events will operate under Phase 3, with 25 spectators allowed at indoor events and either 100 spectators or 30% of the venue’s stated fire capacity allowed at outdoor events, whichever is fewer.
Notably, though, “players, coaches and support staff” don’t count against those capacity limits, and local policies by individual school districts or charter/parochial schools can restrict attendance further.
According to the NCHSAA, cloth face coverings “must be worn at all times by any individual not actively participating” during contests. That includes all student-athletes (presumably on the bench), coaches, spectators, officials and event management staff.
For in-season practices, coaches and staff are “strongly recommended” to wear masks at all times, as are athletes “when not actively engaged in physical activity.”
Any athlete actively engaged in “high aerobic” physical activity — basically, anyone who’s on the floor, in the game or competing — doesn’t have to wear a mask, a policy the NCHSAA has had for months.
Cross country and volleyball are the first two sports to begin official practices/tryouts on Wednesday, Nov. 4 and competitions on Monday, Nov. 16. For those two sports, plus swimming and diving (first practice Nov. 23, first competition Dec. 7), the NCHSAA even more provided detailed instructions on game-day operations and specifically tailored strategies to limit the spread of COVID-19.
In volleyball, for example, the NCHSAA explicitly banned the usual pregame ritual where the two teams run parallel to the net, in opposite directions, for a line of high-fives. Athletes are encouraged to “honor/promote sportsmanship in a creative way” instead.
And in cross country, the association provided diagrams for a “spaced mass start” and “multiple finish chute,” two strategies to make sure all runners stay six feet apart even in the parts of a race that are most usually crowded.
In an open letter near the top of the document, NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said high school athletics leaders are “uniquely positioned to be role models of understanding, hope, and clarity” as the association fully ramps up for its first official competitions since mid-March.
“We do not know what tomorrow will bring; however, we can reassure others that a time will come when our lives will regain some normalcy — at home, at school, in the playing arena, and in the community,” Tucker wrote. “Yes, there will likely be more disruptions, inconveniences, hardships and maybe even fears; But we can and we will overcome this crisis! After all, we are one team strong and all in this together!”
To read the modified sports manual in full, visit: cutt.ly/nchsaamanual.
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