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The Maine Principals Association is ready to follow the state mandate and new guidelines issued by the National Federation of Public Middle School Associations to pave the way for safe returns to sports activities.
The NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee has issued a blueprint designed to enable secondary schools across the country to finally continue co-curricular activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan involves three phases that will slowly bring athletes back to the training ground after being deemed safe to do so. NFHS stresses the importance of returning athletic activities to school to help the physical and mental well-being of the student-athletes.
High School athletics director John Bapst and head soccer coach Dan O’Connell, Maine liaison coach for SMAC and MPA Sports Medicine Committee member, said the three-phrase approach follows the blueprint adopted by the government in opening up the business.
“The health and safety of our students, coaches and officials is a priority,” O’Connell said. “Our aim is to align these recommendations and guidelines with the opening of the country.
“When we go through these phases and things that appear we don’t think about, we can reassess or make changes as we move to the next phase,” he added. “This gives us the opportunity to learn from what we are doing and make corrections as we progress.”
The list of security measures is very extensive. NFHS recognizes that students from various cities, states and regions will not be able to return to playing at the same time.
The main emphasis for NFHS is reducing exposure to respiratory droplets that spread the disease. That is why the US U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that athlete-students wear cloth face covers through the first two phases and that social distance guidelines remain intact until the disease prevalence decreases.
For high-intensity aerobic activities such as swimming and long distance running, face cover is not required. Trainers, officials and other required personnel must also wear cloth masks.
The NFHS recommends that state associations limit the number of sports-related trips to reduce how much time students spend on buses or vans. He also said organizations such as the MPA must follow the criteria and limits of their own country’s safety.
Phases I and II of the NFHS guidelines include screening coaches and athletes for symptoms of COVID-19 before training and asking them to complete a medical questionnaire. Social distance (six feet away) is also emphasized.
During Phase I, the meeting must include no more than 10 people and the dressing room must remain restricted. It recommends that groups of the same 5-10 athletes always exercise together.
The rules basically limit athletes to condition and develop individual skills with their coaches, because balls and equipment cannot be shared among teammates.
Restrictions were slightly reduced in Phase II. The meeting was extended to 10 athletes while indoors and up to 50 for outdoor training. If a dressing room or meeting room is used, there must be a minimum of six feet between participants.
NFHS said the practice and competition could be continued for athletes in low-risk sports such as cross country, track and field, individual swimming events and skiing. Modified practices can be held for moderate-risk sports such as basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, ice hockey, field hockey, tennis, swimming relay, pole jump, high jump, long jump and women’s lacrosse.
All athletic equipment must be cleaned regularly.
Phase III will allow meetings of up to 50 people, indoors or outdoors. Modified practices can be added for high-risk sports (wrestling, soccer, lacrosse, cheerleading).
The green light for high-risk sports will be given only after epidemiological reassessment and comparison of data from various states and circumstances.
Throughout all phases, athletes and trainers are encouraged to clean, not share equipment or water bottles and bathe at home and clean their own clothes after training.
“We don’t want to go straight in and have regrets. The slower we go, the better we are, “O’Connell said.
He said the NFHS outline provided the much needed initial guidelines that had led to in-depth and collaborative discussions between administrators, medical professionals and members of various committees on how to deal with a pandemic and the return of sports.
“But we have to go back to school first,” O’Connell said of the Maine school, which turned to distance learning in March.
Mike Burnham, executive director of MPA’s interscolastic division, said the outline of NFHS was comprehensive.
“This is an extraordinary guide for us to see and see recommendations that involve every state in the country,” Burnham said.
Burnham praised the work carried out by O’Connell and other members of various MPA committees in handling the pandemic and the possible return of sports and other extracurricular activities.
He said the MPA had not set a deadline to determine whether or when the high school sports season would occur.
The school’s summer sports program should have started in June but has been pushed back until July 7.
“We hope to have a full fall, but a pandemic is not something we control,” Burnham said. “We all want to go back and provide opportunities for children. We know how important that is.
“But it is up to medical experts to tell us that it is safe.”
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