Coaches and administrators across the state received the clearest evidence from the Missouri State High School Activities Association on July 15 that fall sports are planned to go on as normal.
It came by way of an eight-page document from MSHSAA’s Board of Directors and Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, intended to provide guidance and clarification on components of "opening up" for fall and beyond.
The release made clear that it will be up to individual schools how and if they plan to participate in the upcoming season, and potentially beyond. It states, “The risk of coronavirus transmission will still be present to some degree as school activities begin in August and possibly through the 2020-21 school year. Students and their families, along with school personnel, must recognize these risks and implement best practices to reasonably mitigate these risks. Participation in school activities is voluntary, and every individual will need to evaluate the risk versus the benefits of activity participation … every school is different and every activity is different. Certain mitigation strategies may be feasible in one school or for one activity, but not another.”
Furthermore, MSHSAA detailed that if schools are closed only in COVID-19 "hot spots" within the states, if a majority of schools are open for in-person learning, efforts will be made to administer a regular season and postseason for those schools and students who are permitted to do so within the parameters of local and state health officials.
However, schools that are only offering virtual instruction with no face-to-face education, either temporarily or for the semester/year, will not be permitted to offer sports and activities during that period. The document reads, “Sports and activities are irrevocably and appropriately intertwined with education provided in the school building. The MSHSAA Constitution defines a school, in part, as being organized to deliver instruction to students who report to a common location. If conditions are such in your local area that you are unable to safely bring students to a common location for instruction, bringing students together for practice and competitions is inappropriate.”
With fans out of the stands for some time, MSHSAA also provided recommendations for social distancing at upcoming events. Schools are being encouraged to offer live streaming of contests to reduce attendance in order for gathering sizes to be met.
More importantly, MSHSAA is recommending that attendees be grouped into tiers, from essential to non-essential. Two tiers, which include participants, coaches/directors, officials/adjudicators, event staff, medical staff, security and media, would be considered essential, or preferred in the case of media. However, in the case of state or local health departments restricting mass gatherings, non-essential attendance, including spectators and vendors, would be omitted.
The document went into detail as well on players and coaches that test positive for COVID-19, and it includes a "Return to Play" flow chart (and form) to determine the progression for individuals who do.
In related news, the Missouri Football Coaches Association, in agreement with MSHSAA, announced its goal to start the football season on schedule (Aug. 10) and released recommendations to avoid 7-on-7s and contact camps for the remainder of the summer, while also eliminating pre-season jamborees.
For a program like Marshfield, that means the cancelation of the camp it planned to attend in Branson at the end of the month.
“We’re being proactive and focusing on getting to the season and not anything extra,” Blue Jays head coach Cody Bull said. “[The MFCA] are all really good guys, and everyone has the best interests in mind.”
As for MSHSAA’s overall recommendations, Bull said, “I feel like we’re heading in the right direction. … The big thing we’re concerned about is taking care of kids the best we can.”