Guidelines released for the return of high school sports

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BENNINGTON — With spring sports canceled in both New York and Vermont, officials in both states have been looking for guidance in how sports can get back on the field in the fall when school re-opens.

High schools in both states have been closed to in-person instruction for about a month, but recently, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has released new guidelines for the potential return of high school sports.

The NFHS has categorized sports based on risk of exposure to the virus. There are three different groups: lower risk, moderate risk and higher risk.

Individual sports and sports where athletes do not come in close contact with one another fall under the "lower risk" group.

Lower risk sports include: Individual running events, individual swimming, throwing events (javelin, shot put, discus), golf, weightlifting, alpine skiing, sideline cheer, single sculling and cross country running (with staggered starts).

Moderate risk sports include: Basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, water polo, gymnastics (if equipment can't be sufficiently cleaned between competitors), ice hockey, field hockey, tennis, swimming relays, pole vault, high jump, long jump, girls lacrosse, crew with two or more rowers in shell and 7-on-7 football.

Higher risk sports include: Wrestling, football, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer and dance.

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Both the Vermont Principals Association (VPA) and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association are members of the NFHS and implements many of their rules throughout athletic competitions.

Mount Anthony football coach Chad Gordon is optimistic that all fall sports in Vermont will be played this year.

"We're still a ways away from Aug. 10, when we're supposed to start," said Gordon. "We have a long ways to go still. The way the numbers look in Vermont, I'm confident we'll start on time and have a fall season."

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Along with grouping sports based on risk, the NFHS also laid out a three-phase plan for when athletics return. Phase one includes heavy restrictions such as limiting all gatherings to 10 people or less. It also requires athletes to check their temperature before they are allowed to train.

MAU football has anywhere from 40-50 players between their junior varsity and varsity teams on a given year.

Gordon believes MAU has the people in place to successfully and safely monitor athlete health.

"We've got an excellent athletic trainer, Becca (Swart). Through our athletic trainer, through (athletic director) Ashley (Hoyt) and through our coaching staff, we would find a way to screen everybody before a practice," Gordon said.

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By phase three, gatherings of up to 50 people is allowed.

Some sports may see modifications to how the game is played. An example of this is cross country.

Instead of having athletes bunched together at the starting line during a race, a staggered start would limit the close encounters.

Mount Anthony middle school cross country coach Amanda Mullen believes this could help keep athletes healthy.

"If you are splitting up the kids, it gives them a different challenge, but I think it is a low risk," Mullen said.

Although Mullen coaches a "lower risk" sport, she is still worried about the potential of not having a cross country season this fall.

"My concern is that it's going to be an all-or-nothing. It's hard be like, 'oh the cross country and golf team can participate, but not the football team,'" Mullen said.


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