High school fall sports in Utah will proceed as scheduled. For now.
The Utah High School Activities Association Board of Trustees approved a motion Thursday morning in a virtual/in-person meeting to proceed with prep sports in the Beehive State this fall, but with numerous health guidelines and protocols in place.
UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff said the board will meet again July 28 to reevaluate the evolving situation surrounding sports and COVID-19.
The first notable date on the 2020-21 sports calendar is July 20, which is when schools can begin boys golf tryouts. The first allowed date of competition in boys golf is July 27.
Spring sports were canceled to end the 2019-20 school year as schools closed to in-person learning due to the outbreak of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The resumption of sports will ultimately be contingent on whether schools remain open to in-person learning this fall as COVID-19 cases surge throughout the state.
“The Association’s governing board also affirmed a stance of allowing schools and local school districts, in conjunction with local government leaders and health department officials, to determine whether participation in high school activities is allowable and advisable under statewide and local guidelines,” read a statement issued by the UHSAA after the meeting.
The UHSAA also issued guidelines specific to whether counties were in the orange, yellow or green phases of reopening. If counties are in orange, it would necessitate a suspension of virtually all sports except maybe golf.
Under the orange guidelines, according to a presentation during the meeting, groups of 20 people or more can’t meet, no fans are allowed at contests and the association recommends no sporting events where teammates or opponents can be within 10 feet of each other.
Schools in orange counties also wouldn’t be allowed to travel for games in yellow/green counties, and vice versa.
Under the yellow phase, fans are permitted at sporting events but with social distancing guidelines and attendance limits (6,000 fan limit for outdoor events and 3,000 for indoor events).
Each team would be temperature-checked before a contest and there will be limits to the number of players on the sideline (50 for football, 25 for other sports).
Specific considerations about how to properly social distance fans, whether to require masks at games, how to sell tickets, how to limit congregating and who will enforce all of these rules will be left up to individual schools and districts.
The UHSAA is also recommending schools don’t travel out of state for contests, which mainly affects powerhouse athletic programs in Salt Lake and Utah counties, but also has a couple area football programs making alternative plans.
Ben Lomond High and Box Elder High football teams are scheduled to travel out of state in late August for football games against Evanston High (Wyoming) and Rigby High (Idaho).
Most of the state’s counties are currently in the “yellow” phase with a handful of rural counties in green. Salt Lake City is still in the “orange” phase, which at the moment precludes East, Highland and West High from participating in athletics.
Board member Tom Sherwood, the principal of Brighton High in Cottonwood Heights, said people will need to be patient this fall.
“We’re going to have to really educate our coaches that this is going to be a hectic season, there’s going to be a lot of unknowns, it’s going to be messy,” Sherwood said.
Board members and UHSAA staffers indicated such during the Thursday discussion and stressed the need to be flexible given the ever-changing nature of the situation.
What happens if an athletic team has to quarantine for two weeks during the middle of the season? How does that affect scheduling?
Cuff said issues like those that arise will have to be dealt with as they come. He said that if, for any reason including COVID-19 concerns, a team doesn’t want to play against another team, there will be no punishment and the game will go down as a no contest.
If individual schools shut down due to unique local circumstances, board member Jerre Holmes said the expectation is that school wouldn’t field sports teams.
School sports teams have been practicing this summer, but under strict health guidelines including temperature checks before practice, no locker room access and group size limitations.
It hasn’t stopped COVID-19 infections among a handful of Wasatch Front high schools
In June, Weber High’s boys basketball team was quarantined after playing a summer game at Mountain Crest High in Hyrum, which was followed two days later by an MCHS player testing positive for COVID-19.
Syracuse and Layton High’s football teams have been affected by the virus this summer, with a group of SHS football players sent home due to a positive test and possible exposure, and with LHS shutting down practice for two weeks.
Mountain Crest, Sky View, Corner Canyon and Herriman have also had their summer schedules directly impacted by COVID-19.
Of course, this could all be for naught. The resumption of fall sports is contingent on schools remaining open, which itself is contingent on the current public health climate.