Kentucky School Advocate
By Matt McCarty
Being able to turn on a dime is an important skill for high school running backs attempting to gain yardage on the football field.
As districts across the state plan for sports to return this fall, KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said the ability to turn on a dime will be important for school leaders as well.
“If ever it was bad to be static and not dynamic, it’s right now,” Tackett said in July. “We’ve got to be fluid and changeable, and we have to realize there might be situations where we’re continuing sports where school isn’t going on. We also might have schools that when they cancel, they don’t let activities go on. We just have to be flexible.”
Tackett said regional and local adaptations will be necessary this year as schools attempt to balance a return of sports amid COVID-19 concerns. But he’s confident there will be sports this fall.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” he said. “They’re absolutely essential to the schools and we know that.”Delayed start
On July 28, the KHSAA Board of Control approved fall sports to begin, but the start date is delayed. Cross country, field hockey, soccer, volleyball, football, competitive cheer and dance will all be able to begin official practice on Aug. 24. The first week of practice will be limited.
“We value what athletics brings to the educational experience,” Tackett said. “It’s a tightrope that we’re walking. We cannot live our lives in a bubble, but we cannot do foolish things either, so where’s that middle?”
Students have been able to participate in workouts and trainings for fall sports this summer. Official mandatory practices were initially delayed until Aug. 3 before the most recent move to Aug. 24.
Golf was exempted from the change and teams were able to begin practices on July 15.Competition for golf has already started. Competition in the other fall sports will begin Sept. 7, except football which begins Sept. 11.
Estill County's boys' golf team wears masks for a team photo during the Estill County Invitational Tournament. Top photo: Kade Benton, a sophomore at Estill County High School, hits a shot during a golf tournament at Stonecrest Golf Course in Prestonsburg. Photos provided by Estill County golf coach Rick Benton
“Our board, composed of school personnel and community leaders, feels much more comfortable managing the efforts of our students with athletics under the supervision of our trained coaches as opposed to those in other leagues and levels,” Tackett said. “Even this summer, parents and students have proven that play in sports will go on, even during a pandemic. Such play has a strong likelihood of positive outcomes when led by our school representatives.”
Tackett said the KHSAA has heard from many parent groups who have indicated that people will potentially make enrollment decisions on whether there are sports or not. “If we’re not going to (have sports), they’re going to go somewhere that is.”
The Board of Control scheduled its next meeting for Aug. 20 in order to evaluate the COVID-19 landscape and determine if it’s still safe to begin practices on Aug. 24.Safety measures
Golf has an advantage being played outside and its participants can maintain social distancing recommendations where players in other sports may not be able to.
“Air flow and air circulation are critical. That’s what all the public health people are saying. I’m not a public health person so I’ve got to rely on their expertise,” Tackett said of why outdoor sports, including football, could have an advantage over indoor sports, including volleyball and basketball. “I think the smaller the gym is, the more problematic indoor is. ... The further we get along, the more it appears as though people that have tried some indoor things are going to be able to make some modifications.”
Tackett said some recommendations for indoor sports will be to bring in fresh air by leaving windows or doors open, but those solutions run counter to safety recommendations. He said guidance is being developed collaboratively between health officials and the Kentucky Center for School Safety to help schools find the right balance.
Schools in at least four districts reportedly stopped voluntary workouts this summer due to COVID-19 concerns. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that two Russell Independent teams stopped workouts after a student tested positive; a Pike County high school suspended conditioning after a player was exposed to COVID-19; and Clay County paused its athletic activities based on the recommendation of local health officials.
Hazard Independent High School athletic team activities were stopped in mid-July after 38 people – 18 football players, three coaches and 17 family members – reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus.
Tackett said the next few weeks will be helpful as officials continue to gather data and that it is helpful that Kentucky isn’t going to be the first state to start back with sports, allowing KHSAA to monitor what other state athletic associations do.
“Maybe some other organization or some other state tries a little bit and here’s what they do, and they don’t see a bunch of outbreaks. Maybe that gives us a good pattern,” he said. “Or maybe they do things that weren’t so wise, and we know what not to do. I think that’s another benefit to getting another two to three weeks of data.”
Tackett said more health guidance will be released before the season starts, but he expects there will likely be temperature checks for people attending or participating in athletic events as well as a possible limit on the number of fans who can attend.
He said districts working with their local health departments will be important and advised local board members to use the public health guidance when determining protocols for their districts.
No district or school has told the KHSAA that they will not be participating in sports this fall. “I think once we get closer to the anticipated start of official stuff, official practice, we’re liable to see that,” Tackett said.
“It’ll be a local decision on what they do,” he said. “What we are trying to do is keep a structure available for an opportunity and let everyone choose if they want that opportunity.
“We know that 2020-21 is going to look different than anything we’ve ever seen.”