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Gabriel Goldman, sophomore at Palmer High School, competes in the 40-yard sled race during the linemen challenge at Falcon High School on Saturday, July 13, 2019 in Peyton, Colo. Eight local schools competed in the challenge. There can be no sharing of such sleds under Phase 1, per the NFHS coronavirus guidelines. (Photo by Katie Klann, The Gazette)

The National Federation of State High School Associations released a 16-page document this week outlining a phased approach offered as a guide to help state associations return to athletics this fall.

The document, released to the 51 state association leaders Monday, outlines “ideas to consider with their respective sports medicine committees and state health departments in designing return-to-activity plans that will be in accordance with state or local restrictions,” and does not specifically mandate the guidelines.

Last week the Colorado High School Activities Association announced its plan to create a “Resocialization” task force to determine the steps to be taken to reopen Colorado high school sports. The task force will meet for the first time next month.

Do students need to be back in the classroom before high school sports can resume? CHSAA creates task force to find out

The document and three-phase reopening guidance was developed by the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, which includes medical doctors, certified athletic trainers, high school coaches and officials, research specialists and state high school association executives.

High- vs. low-risk sports

The document breaks down each individual sport based on its risk factor for potential exposure to COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses. The sports that are considered "moderate risk" cannot hold contests until the states advance to Phase 3 under the NFHS guidelines. Higher risk sports may begin "modified practices" at Phase 3. According to the document further epidemiology research and other states’ success will determine if and when higher-risk sports can resume competition.

The breakdown of risk between sports include but are not limited to:

Lower-risk activities: Individual running and throwing events, swimming, golf, weightlifting, cross country

Moderate-risk activities: Basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, ice hockey, field hockey, tennis, girls’ lacrosse, 7-on-7 football

High-risk activities: Wrestling, football, boys’ lacrosse, competitive cheer, dance

The Phases

According to the document, a gating criteria will establish Phase 1 of the NFHS reopening recommendations, and further criteria must be met to advance to the next phase as determined by state or local government mandates.

Listed below are summaries of the NFHS phase guidelines. To read each phase in its entirety, click here.

Phase 1

  • Pre-workout screenings: All coaches and athletes will be screened for signs/symptoms of COVID-19 before each workout, which includes a temperature check and screening questions.
  • Limitations on gatherings: No gatherings of more than 10 people at a time and workouts should be conducted in “pods” of 5-10 students. Locker rooms will be closed. Minimum distance of 6 feet between individuals at all times.
  • Facilities cleaning: All hard surfaces should be wiped down and sanitized before individuals or groups can enter a facility. Proper hand-washing procedures and hand-sanitizing stations are encouraged. Students are encouraged to shower and wash their workout clothing immediately upon returning home.
  • Physical activity and athletic equipment: No shared equipment between students. All athletic equipment, including balls, should be cleaned after each use and just before the next workout. Free weight exercises that require a spotter cannot be conducted.
  • Examples:
  1. A basketball player can shoot with a ball(s), but a team should not practice/pass a single ball among the team where multiple players touch the same ball.
  2. A football player should not participate in team drills with a single ball that will be handed off or passed to other teammates. Contact with other players is not allowed, and there should be no sharing of tackling dummies/donuts/sleds.
  3. A volleyball player should not use a single ball that others touch or hit in any manner.
  4. Softball and baseball players should not share gloves, bats, or throw a single ball that will be tossed among the team.
  • Hydration: All students should bring their own water bottle, bottles must not be shared. Shared hydration stations are not permitted.

Phase 2

  • Pre-workout screenings: Same as Phase 1
  • Limitations on gatherings: No indoor gatherings of more than 10 people at a time and workouts should be conducted in “pods” of 5-10 students. Gatherings up to 50 individuals may meet for outdoor workouts. If locker rooms are used athletes must maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet. Social distancing must also be maintained on sidelines and benches during practice.
  • Facilities cleaning: Same as Phase 1
  • Physical activity and athletic equipment: Same as Phase 1 with the allowance of weightlifting spotters for squats and bench presses. Lower-risk sports may resume practices and competition. Modified practices may begin for moderate-risk sports.
  • Hydration: Same as Phase 1.

Phase 3

  • Pre-workout screenings: A record should be kept of all individuals present. Any person with a fever or cold symptoms in the previous 24 hours should not be allowed to practice or work out.
  • Limitations on gatherings: Gatherings up to 50 individuals may meet for indoor/outdoor workouts. When not directly participating in practice or contest, athletes and coaches should maintain a minimum distance of 3-6 feet.
  • Facilities cleaning: Same as Phase 1 & 2
  • Physical activity and athletic equipment: Same as Phase 1 & 2. Moderate-risk sports practices and competitions may begin. Modified practices may begin for higher-risk sports with continuation of pre-practice screenings from Phase 1 & 2. Athletic equipment such as bats, batting helmets and catchers gear should be cleaned between each use. Other equipment, such as helmets/pads/eyewear should be worn by only one individual and not shared.
  • Hydration: All students should bring their own water bottle, bottles must not be shared. Shared hydration stations may be utilized and must be cleaned after every practice or contest.

Spectators, essential workers

The document lists athletes, coaches, officials and event and medical staff as "essential" members, while media is considered "preferred." The NFHS said spectators and vendors, considered "nonessential" according to the document, will not be permitted to attend contests until mass-gathering restrictions are lifted in their state.

The ‘New Normal’

The document encourages state associations to operate as if social distancing and preventative measures are the "new normal" until a cure, vaccine or "effective treatment" is readily available, warning that there is a "near certainty" of recurrent outbreaks in the fall and winter.

“State associations must be prepared for periodic school closures and the possibility of some teams having to isolate for two to three weeks while in season," the document said. "Development of policies is recommended regarding practice and/or competition during temporary school closures, the cancellation of contests during the regular season, and parameters for the cancellation or premature ending to postseason events/competitions.”