NFHS Provides Guidance For Reopening High School Sports This Fall

The multi-million dollar question for team dealers across America is simple: Will high school sports return in the fall? While the answer certainly varies from region to region across America, no one is sure their crystal ball is telling them the right answer.

That includes the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), whose executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff, recently sent out a letter that was both optimistic and vague.

“Re-opening is the key word in sports at all levels right now. Along with leaders of youth-level sports and the NCAA, the NFHS and its member state associations are exploring all options for conducting sports this fall,” Dr. Niehoff wrote. “And while we all want answers, the truth is that there are more questions than answers at this point.”

To answer some of these many questions with the ultimate goal of reopening school sports and activities, the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) this week released a document it called “NFHS Guidelines For Opening Up High School Athletics” as guidance on how state associations can consider approaching the many components of “opening up” high school athletics and activities across the United States.

In the lengthy document -- https://www.nfhs.org/media/3812287/2020-nfhs-guidance-for-opening-up-high-school-athletics-and-activities-nfhs-smac-may-15_2020-final.pdf – the NFHS said it recognizes that it is likely that all students will not be able to return to – and sustain – athletic activity at the same time in all schools, regions and states.

“There will also likely be variation in what sports and activities are allowed to be played and held. While we would typically have reservations regarding such inequities, the NFHS SMAC endorses the idea of returning students to school-based athletics and activities in any and all situations where it can be done safely,” the document read.

A key component of the guidance is the identification of sports that are lower risk, moderate risk, and higher risk for spreading COVID-19, with lower risk sports returning first, then moderate risk, and finally higher risk.

  • Lower risk sports include individual running events, throwing events, individual swimming, golf, weightlifting, sideline cheerleading, and cross-country running with staggered starts.
  • Moderate risk sports include basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, gymnastics, field hockey, tennis, swimming relays, pole vault, high jump, long jump, girls’ lacrosse and 7-on-7 football.
  • Higher risk sports include wrestling, football, boys’ lacrosse, competitive cheer and dance.

And much like the process the rest of the country is taking to gradually reopen, the NFHS guidance involves a staged approach and allows for a variation in which sports will be allowed to play in different parts of the country.

Phase 1:

  • Pre-workout screening: All coaches and athletes should be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 prior to workout, including a temperature check. Anyone who has positive symptoms should not be allowed to work out and should be referred to their doctor. Vulnerable people should not take part in workouts during the first phase.
  • Limitations on gatherings: No more than 10 people at a time, inside or outside. Locker room should not be used; students should report to workouts with proper gear and return home. Workouts should be conducted in groups of 5-10 students who will always workout together, smaller groups for weight training. A minimum distance of six feet should be maintained.
  • Cleaning: Cleaning schedules must be implemented. Hard surfaces should be wiped down prior to a workout. Hand washing should be practiced and hand sanitizer should be available for all. Students should shower and wash clothes immediately upon returning home.
  • Physical activity & equipment: No shared athletic equipment. No sharing of clothing. All equipment should be cleaned prior to and after each use. Individual drills using equipment are permissible but the equipment must be cleaned before the next person uses it. Free weight exercises that require a spotter are not permissible.
  • Hydration: Student should bring their own water bottlers and they should not be shared. Hydration stations (water cows, water troughs, water fountains) should not be used.

Phase 2:

  • Pre-workout screening: No changes from phase one.
  • Limitations on gatherings: No more than 10 people at a time inside. Up to 50 individuals may gather outdoors for workouts. If locker rooms or meeting rooms are used, six feet of social distance must be maintained at all times. Workouts should continue to be held in pods. Appropriate social distancing must be maintained, including on the sidelines and benches during practices. Schools should consider using tape or paint as a guide for social distancing.
  • Cleaning: No changes from phase one.
  • Physical activity & equipment: Lower risk sports practices and competitions may resume. Modified practices may begin for moderate risk sports. No shared athletic towels, clothing, or shoes. All equipment must be cleaned periodically during practices and contests. Hand sanitizer should be plentiful at practices and contests. Equipment such as bats, batting helmets, catchers gear should be cleaned between each use. Maximum lifts should be limited and power cages should be used for squats and bench presses. Spotters should stand at each end of the bar.
  • Hydration: No changes from phase one.

Phase 3:

  • Pre-workout/contest screening: Any person who has had a fever or cold symptoms in the previous 24 hours should not be allowed to participate. A record should be kept of all individuals present. Vulnerable individuals can resume interactions, but should practice social distancing.
  • Limitations on gatherings: Gathering sizes of up to 50 individuals, indoors or outdoors. When not directly participating in practices or contests, social distancing should be observed.
  • Cleaning: No changes from phase one or two.
  • Physical activity & equipment: Moderate risk sports practices and competitions may begin. No shared athletic towels, clothing, or shoes. Hand sanitizer should be plentiful at games and practices. Athletic equipment such as bats, batting helmets and catchers gear should be cleaned between each use. Other equipment, such as hockey helmets/pads, wrestling ear guards, football helmets/other pads, lacrosse helmets/pads/gloves/eyewear should be worn by only one individual and not shared. Maximum lifts should be limited and power cages should be used for squats and bench presses. Spotters should stand at each end of the bar. Modified practices may begin for higher risk sports.
  • Hydration: Students should bring their own water bottle and should not be shared. Hydration stations may be utilized but must be cleaned after every practice or contest.

Finally, the document also goes on to group people into tiers from essential to non-essential to decide which tiers will be allowed at an event:

1. Tier 1 (Essential): Athletes, coaches, officials, event staff, medical staff, security

2. Tier 2 (Preferred): Media

3. Tier 3 (Non-essential): Spectators, vendors