NFHS identifies sports by risk in guidelines for resuming high school athletics

ADRIAN O'HANLON III | Staff photoThe Buffs join high schools around the country in awaiting the return of sports. The NFHS released guidances to state associations on Tuesday, and the OSSAA is set to vote on a decision on Friday.

Schools need to implement safety precautions in order to resume athletics activities, according to the national governing body of high school sports.

The National Federation of State High School Associations, of which the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Athletic Association is a member, released to its 51-member association on Tuesday its guidance on how to evaluate and curate a plan for reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Those guidelines included using cloth face masks during workouts, limiting large gatherings, and students bringing their own water bottles. Using a tiered reopening plan, this would allow for states to progressively reopen on a case by case basis as each state would have different criteria.

In Phase 1, the NFHS recommends pre-workout health screenings. There would be no gatherings of more than 10 people at a time, and individuals should bring their own workout clothing. All game balls should be wiped down after each use.

In Phase 2, pre-workout screenings would continue. There would be no gatherings of more than 10 people inside, but up to 50 would be allowed outside. Low risk sports practices could also resume.

In Phase 3, pre-workout screenings would continue. Large gatherings of up to 50 people would be allowed. Moderate risk sports can resume practices, and higher risk sports could begin modified practices.

The OSSAA board is set for a special board meeting on Friday morning, where it will make a determination on its plan of how to proceed with reopening sports for summer activities. 

OSSAA executive director David Jackson said a plan had been formed on Tuesday, but he wanted to give the Board of Directors a chance to review it before voting on Friday. If the plan is approved, it will be immediately sent to member schools who will start enacting the first phase of the reopening plan on June 1.

The NFHS created the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, a 15-member committee comprising of medical doctors, certified athletic trainers, high school coaches and officials, research specialists, and state high school association executives.

The purpose of this SMAC is to gather data and coordinate guidance as related to medical conditions during high school athletics.

In the release to members, Michael Koester, M.D., chair of the NFHS SMAC, relayed to members that the NFHS guidance is intended to be ideas for state activities governing bodies, such as the OSSAA, on how to move forward.

“We are greatly indebted to the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for its work in formulating this guidance for re-opening high school athletics and activities,” Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director, said in the release. “It is important to be clear that this is guidance for individual states to consider as they return to activities this fall. States will utilize the guidance in this document as it best fits their state after consulting with local and state health departments.”

In the guidance, the NFHS recognizes that each state will have different criterion based on individual states’ reopening plans and trending data. However, they recommend a suggested opening in “Phases,” using official guidelines from the CDC and White House’s “Opening Up America Again” plan.

Each phase could consist of medical screenings, such as temperature checks, alongside social distancing workout practices and equipment, facility sanitation. As each phase progresses, restrictions on group gathering sizes and usage of locker rooms lessens.

In the end, the NFHS SMAC advises practicing good hygiene, staying home if ill, and wiping down game balls.

“We believe this guidance document will be a tremendous resource for our member state associations as they determine the timetables for re-opening sports and activities,” Niehoff said. “The NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee utilized recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as some return-to-play considerations by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), in formulating this guidance document for re-opening athletics and other activities in our nation’s schools.”

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