Students gear up for fall sports, with precautions

Highland High School athletic director Travis Bell knows fall sports at his school will look different this year.

Sidelined athletes and fans will have to wear masks and social distance “as much as possible.” Event seating for upcoming volleyball, soccer and football games will be limited.

Still, Bell summed up the prospect of a sports season: “We are excited.”

The Idaho High School Activities Association is letting sports happen this fall, as long as state leaders don’t close public schools like they did last spring.

But the season won’t be the same. The prospect of state tournaments are unclear. And like emerging school-reopening plans, a student’s address will dictate the level of activity.

Most districts are giving athletes the green light, with IHSAA safety guidelines in place. Out of over 80 district websites reviewed last week by EdNews, only Canyon County’s Notus School District had put fall sports on a firm hold — for now.

“We understand that our students miss participating in sports and activities,” the district said in a statement, adding that leaders are monitoring local coronavirus cases with hopes of reinstating activities in the coming weeks.

Canyon County last month emerged as one of Idaho’s five coronavirus hotspots. But that hasn’t stopped nearby districts from kicking off the season to at least some degree. Caldwell and Nampa are allowing some form of practice with safety guidelines in place, including face masks for coaches. Students are also asked to avoid fist-bumps and high-fives after events.

Nampa administrators are limiting practices to just conditioning and weight training, in groups of 10 or less, with masks when social distancing is not feasible. Nampa trustees will meet Sept. 1 to determine if schools will continue fully online or they may move to a hybrid learning model. If that happens, sports teams may be able to begin full practices as early as Sept. 8.

Nampa reopened with a fully online-learning model Monday; Caldwell will follow suit Thursday.

Schools in West Ada, which operates in another so-called hotspot, are also gearing up for competition. Earlier this month, West Ada pushed its reopening date from Aug. 27 to Sept. 8, with a virtual-learning option for families.

Other districts heavily impacted by the pandemic are starting things off slower. Teams in the Boise School District held small group workouts of no more than 10 athletes this week. Practices and tryouts can’t start until after trustees give the go ahead for in-person learning in the district. And even then, schools must have safety protocols in place for athletes. Boise reopened with a fully online model last week.

School leaders aren’t the only ones apprehensive about fall sports. North Idaho’s Kootenai Joint School District, which also operates in a designated COVID-19 hotspot, pled this week for students to sign up.

“Kootenai is in need of students to participate in our sports programs,” the district wrote on its Facebook page. “We are extremely low in number of participants right now and are in jeopardy of cancelling our sports programs.”

Amid the precautions and mixed outlook for sports, the prospect of a season conjures up some feelings of life before the pandemic.

But not much, said Blackfoot High School head football coach Jerroed Ackley. “We’ll see what happens after the first week. We’re being careful to avoid an outbreak that could shut it down.”

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

Devin was formerly a senior reporter and editor for Idaho Education News and now works for INL in communications.

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