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Alabama high school football to open on schedule with social distancing

The Alabama High School Athletic Association announced Thursday that high school football and other fall sports will be played on schedule — but with modifications to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We’re looking forward to starting football practice on Aug. 3,” AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese told reporters. “I’ve asked all of our schools to be flexible, to be patient and be understanding because our life has not been as normal as we’d like it to be.”

Many school systems will start the school year remotely through e-learning and others have given the parents the option of educating their child through remote classes.

Savarese confirmed that those students will be allowed to participate in athletics if cleared by both the family and the school.

“We’re all going to have to adjust,” Savarese said. “Schools will try to make as many accommodations for individuals as possible, but we’re all going to have to be patient and understanding as we deal with this health issue.”

Many football fans applauded the decision.

“I have witnessed firsthand what the experience of playing football means to players at all levels,” said former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr. “I applaud Steve Savarese Executive Director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association for developing a plan for High School fall sports to be played.”

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Dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic brings with it unique challenges.

According to the plan approved on Wednesday, any student with a prior confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis should undergo an evaluation by their medical provider. Written medical clearance is recommended prior to participation. Any student who was isolated or quarantined must complete a minimum five-day acclimation period once released before returning to sports.

A gradual return to activity is advised, and any athlete showing abnormal health issues should be evaluated and cleared by a physician prior to a return to sports activities. As much as possible, practices, training, workouts, meetings, etc. should be held outdoors. In accordance with the ALSDE “Roadmap to Reopening Schools,” contact-tracing is an ADPH function and not the responsibility of local schools.

All individual mitigation practices should be observed at all times including non-athletic related activities.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Editorial Committee prepared a document outlining modifications “meant to decrease potential exposure to respiratory droplets by encouraging social distancing, limiting participation in administrative tasks to essential personnel and allowing for appropriate protective equipment.”

The NFHS announced that to allow for more social distancing the members of the team box will be extended on both sides of the field to the 10-yard lines. Coaches however will continue to be restricted from 25 to 25-yard lines.

Cloth face coverings are permissible. Plastic shields covering the entire face (unless integrated into the face mask and attached to the helmet and clear without the presence of any tint) shall NOT be allowed during the contest.

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Gloves are permissible but still must comply with Rule 1-5-2b by meeting either the NOCSAE Standard or the SFIA Specification.

Charged time-outs will be extended to a maximum of two minutes in length.

It will be permissible for more than one coach to be involved in the conference and for technology (headsets) to be used.

The intermission between periods (first/second and third/fourth) as well as the time period following a try, successful field goal or safety and prior to the succeeding free kick will also be extended to a maximum of two minutes.

Only one captain from each team may be present at the coin toss with the referee and umpire. The same procedure will be utilized for overtime.

In addition to the rule changes, the NFHS also made a list of best practices.

  • Individuals should maintain social distancing of 6 feet at all times while in the team box.
  • Individuals should not share uniforms, towels and other apparel and equipment.
  • The ball should be cleaned and sanitized throughout the contest as recommended by the ball manufacturer. Ball handlers should maintain social distancing of 6 feet at all times during the contest.
  • Officials may use an electronic whistle and wear cloth face coverings.
  • All individuals, including each player and official when brought out on the field during time outs, should have their own beverage container.
  • The NFHS recommends that there be no handshakes during the coin toss, pregame or postgame.
  • Players, coaches, team personnel and game administration officials should wash and sanitize their hands as often as possible.
  • Gloves and cloth face coverings are permissible for all coaches, team staff and game administration officials.
  • Non-essential personnel should be restricted from the field during the contest.
  • If available, dressing facilities for game officials and teams should be large enough for them to use social distancing protocols and should be properly cleaned and sanitized prior

The NFHS has released similar guidelines for the other fall sports. They can be found on the AHAA website.

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Savarese is the president-elect of the NFHS. His one year term as president will begin July 2021.

“It will not be easy, but I feel confident that a plan can be developed to assure the safety of our student-athletes,” said Hooper.

We still do not know if there will be fans in the stands.

Savarese said that he hopes that in the coming weeks the Alabama Department of Public Health will release guidelines on group events such as high school stadiums and gymnasiums.

4,315,709 Americans have contracted the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and 149,398 of them have died, including 1,428 Alabamians.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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