Photo: Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman (left, wrestling Nebraska’s Chad Red in January) and...
Sept 21 Update: Virginia and Kentucky announce wrestling starts
High school sports updates, Sept. 21
By Rob Sherrill
WIN magazine continues to update when high school wrestling and other sports will take place this academic year while this country continued to deal with COVID-19 issues.
Here is an update on all the states the District of Columbia:
Starting all fall sports on schedule: 14
Playing all fall sports in the fall, with late starts or reduced seasons: 18
Playing some fall sports in the fall, football and/or other fall sports in the spring: 9
Offering schools the option to play fall sports in the fall or in the spring: 3
Playing some fall sports in the fall, not playing football: 1
Playing all sports after Jan. 1: 6
REGARDING WRESTLING …
Virginia ratifies Championships + 1 season schedule
On Sept. 17, the Virginia High School League’s Executive Committee voted unanimously to adopt the proposed “Championships + 1” schedule for the 2020-21 season.
The vote paves the way for the winter sports, including wrestling, to begin the VHSL year with practice starting on Dec. 7 and competitions on Dec. 21. The state wrestling tournaments are scheduled for Feb. 20, 2021.
The plan calls for teams to play 60 percent of their normal regular-season games, with a condensed time frame for regional playoffs, and just two rounds of state playoffs. Four teams from each region will qualify for the spring football playoffs, and state quarterfinal rounds in all sports have been eliminated.
The “Championships + 1” format allows teams that do not advance to regional tournaments to schedule another game, as long as it is completed by the deadline for region playoffs.
“The VHSL acknowledges that no plan is perfect,” executive director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun said. “We are in unprecedented times in which we have been forced to create a temporary new normal. We understand this plan, or any plan, will not meet the expectations for those wanting a normal fall, winter and spring sports season. This plan, however, will allow student-athletes and academic activity participants the opportunity of having a season and playing for a state championship.”
The plan was not without dissent. A “Let Them Play” rally seeking the return of fall sports was held at the state capitol in Richmond last week, with about 50 players, parents and coaches attending.
Haun told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that an online petition generated by the “Let Them Play” movement had about 5,000 signatures. He also said VHSL staff and the Executive Committee had received “numerous e-mails,” the majority about football.
“Losing last spring’s season was very difficult, and now not having competitions in the fall is difficult,” Haun told the Times-Dispatch. “We are career educators.”
The Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association, which conducts state championship events for private schools in Virginia, is not sanctioning any events this fall.
Kentucky sets winter sports starts
On Sept. 16, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s Board of Control approved practice and competition dates for its six winter sports.
The first day of wrestling practice is set for Nov. 2, with competition starting on Dec. 7. Teams will be limited to a maximum of 16 competitions. Bowling and swimming also start practice on Nov. 2. Basketball practice begins on Oct. 26, with games on Nov. 23. The basketball season has been moved earlier than normal due to facility conflicts for planned state events.
Competitive cheer and dance are beginning their seasons on Sept. 21, with a segmented approach to activity over the next few weeks. Further details will be distributed to member schools that allow the resumption of those activities. In July, the Board of Control had moved the regional championships for both activities into 2021. In cheer, segmentations will further clarify “stunting,” which has been restricted during the pandemic and resumption to play.
REGARDING OTHER SPORTS …
Illinois stages “Let Us Play” rallies in Chicago and Springfield
A pair of coordinated events under the banner “Let Us Play” took place Sept. 19 in Chicago and Springfield.
The goal: individuals associated with the Illinois High School Association’s currently-postponed fall sports, football, volleyball and boys soccer, making it clear to the state’s political leadership that they want those sports reinstated to the fall season. The two rallies combined attracted more than 1,000 supporters.
At his most recent press conference last Tuesday, however, Gov. J.B. Pritzker doubled down on his position supporting the IHSA’s currently planned spring start times for the three sports, even with the planned rallies on the horizon. Pritzker described his view as a response to COVID-19 pandemic safety concerns, not politics.
“I’m not willing to sacrifice people’s lives or their health — neither the children nor their parents who would be affected also,” Pritzker said. “We’re being careful about it, but I’m relying on doctors and researchers to give us the information. This isn’t a political decision. I know that there are people who would like me simply to make a political decision to allow people to endanger themselves.
“The pandemic has had an enormous impact on everybody, not to mention the health and safety people. The idea, as you know, of focusing on sports [is] not my idea; it’s doctors and researchers [who] have found that sports, particularly high school sports and college sports, without the proper mitigations, without prevention, etc., that those sports are dangerous.”
On July 14, the IHSA had ceded control over its “Return to Play” plan decisions to Pritzker, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education. On July 29, hours after Pritzker announced restrictions on IHSA, youth and adult recreation sports, the IHSA released a four-season sports schedule that shifted football, volleyball and boys soccer from the fall to the spring for 2020-21. All three sports had been designated by the DPH as either medium- or higher-risk in the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, in a Sept. 10 letter to the governor, the IHSA requested that the association and its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee be permitted to resume control over the resumption of IHSA sports and activities.
Said executive director Craig Anderson on the IHSA web site:
“There have been no discussions, let alone proposed timelines, for resuming any sports at this time. Should our office receive a positive response from government officials, it could result in the IHSA re-examining its previously released season schedules, as well as postseason schedules, for the 2020-21 school year. It is important to note that, under the leadership of Gov. Pritzker, Illinois has attained one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the country. Additionally, several surrounding states have successfully conducted sports classified as medium- and high-risk here in Illinois.
“The IHSA is not involved in any planned protests related to high school sports. If protests occur, we encourage all attendees to be safe, smart and respectful.”
On Sept. 14, the IHSA Board of Directors waived 2020-21 season limitations for winter, spring, and summer sports that would have restricted those sports to no more than two contests per week. Sports in all three seasons will revert to their normal season game limitations, as dictated by IHSA bylaws.
Additionally, the IHSA’s summer season will begin two weeks earlier than initially announced. Baseball, softball, track and field, girls soccer, lacrosse and boys tennis will begin practices on April 19 and games on May 3.
Colorado extends schools fall football option
On Sept. 16, the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Board of Directors voted 12-3 to approve variances approved by Gov. Jared Polis’s COVID Response Team that will allow member schools the option to play football, field hockey and sideline spirit during the fall season, also known as Season A, or during the spring Season C established on Aug. 4.
Under the revised plan, schools are required to declare their season choice by Sept. 21. That choice applies to the school’s entire program, including sub-varsity teams.
There will be two identical seasons, which will conclude with a fall season champion and a spring season champion. A school may play in only one season.
In football, the CHSAA will develop a six-game regular season for every team in both seasons. Teams must play at least four of those six games to be eligible for the playoffs. The CHSAA will keep leagues intact if at least 50 percent of a league opts to play in one season. Otherwise, schedules will be drawn to provide each team six games.
Eight teams in each classification will qualify for the playoffs, which will be set and seeded by the CHSAA Seeding Index. Teams that do not qualify for the playoffs can schedule a seventh game against another non-qualifier in Week 1 or Week 2 of the postseason.
Fall football practice will start on Sept. 24, with games starting on Oct. 8. The fall playoffs will start on Nov. 21, with the championship games set for Dec. 5.
“I want to thank my colleagues on the Board,” said CHSAA Board of Directors president Troy Baker, the athletic director at Buena Vista High School. “The CHSAA Board is charged to make the best decision for all kids in our state. We are a diverse state and many of our schools are faced with unique challenges that can elevate the complexity in making a decision that supports all schools and students. We are in a pandemic. It’s not normal times. We’re all trying to find a way to navigate through it, with the hope of trying to find some normalcy in our lives. There isn’t a guide of how to do this.”
Added CHSAA commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green: “I would like to thank the CHSAA Board of Directors and the CHSAA staff for their commitment to reconsidering the options once the variances were provided to the CHSAA office. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the Governor’s office to obtain variances for wrestling, swimming and other sports in Seasons B, C and D.”
A major factor in the Board’s decision was the COVID Response Team’s approval of variances that include limits of 50 players, per sideline, on the field during a football game. In field hockey, the variance allows for 25 players per sideline, per game. Previously, these guidelines were 25 players, total.
All participants, including athletes, coaches, match officials, staff, and others, must wear masks while not actively playing, even outdoors. They must also be six feet apart from non-household members on the sidelines, or while not in active play. They may not go into the spectator area.
Requested variances for the CHSAA’s remaining fall sports, gymnastics, boys soccer, spirit, girls volleyball, and unified bowling, remain under consideration by the COVID Response Team.
Minnesota to reconsider fall sports decisions
Minnesota moved football and girls volleyball to the spring on Aug. 4. However, the state appears to be the newest to reconsider such a decision.
Last Wednesday, Blaine Novak, superintendent of the New York Mills school district and the president of the Minnesota State High School League’s Board of Directors, called a special meeting of the Board, set for Sept. 21.
The agenda includes a single item: “Reconsider Placement of Fall Activities Seasons.”
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that the MSHSL’s Return to Participation Task Force met virtually to determine best-case scenarios for starting fall football and volleyball. Suggestions included starting football practice on Sept. 28, games on Oct. 9; volleyball practice would start on Oct. 12, after the club season ends, and matches on Oct. 26.
The biggest question appears to be whether a fall football season that includes a full playoff structure could be instituted. Should the Board vote to keep football and volleyball in the spring, the remaining 2020-21 sports calendar could be confirmed at its Oct. 1 meeting.
Arizona adjusts key metric to allow football to proceed
The Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Executive Board, with the support of the AIA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, adjusted a benchmark metric listed in the Recommended Guidelines for Return to Athletic Activity originally proposed to address high risk/contact sports.
SMAC had recommended that a safe return to football in terms of contact in practice, and ultimately competition, should depend on a given geographic area having no more than 10 people per 100,000 test positive for COVID-19. After consulting with a number of executive leaders at other NFHS state associations that are currently playing football, and consideration of each of the metrics, especially hospitalization, it was determined that a metric of 75 per 100,000 could be established for football to begin competition on Oct. 2.
Several states that are currently playing have COVID-19 rates similar to Arizona.
“We have been given the opportunity to compete in football. However, it will take all of us – coaches, players, parents, fans and administrators – to implement all of the modifications,” AIA executive director David Hines said. “This is critical for us to stay on the current track. It is equally as critical that all involved understand the importance of adhering to the guidance of athletic trainers and medical personnel.”
Benchmarks for all other fall sports have been met, and competition has begun for golf, cross country, swimming, fall soccer, badminton and girls volleyball.
Connecticut cancels 11-man football, looks to 2021
On Sept. 16, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s Board of Control reaffirmed its Sept. 3 decision to cancel full-contact football for the 2020-21 school year. The decision was made in alignment with the state Department of Public Health’s determination that football is a high-risk sport and should not be played this fall.
The Board did, however, agree to consider allowing competition at a later time for a sport that cannot be played in its regularly scheduled season, such as football, provided it does not negatively impact spring sports.
DPH continues to recommend substituting “higher risk” athletic activities with “moderate risk” or “lower risk” options and/or postponing those activities to a later time. The CIAC’s football committee will recommend low and moderate-risk football activities in which schools may continue to engage their football athletes; 7-on-7 football, scheduled to start in neighboring Vermont this week, is a moderate-risk option the CIAC has previously considered.
“CIAC made every effort to weigh all factors in this decision, including the passionate voices of students, parents, and school personnel, and ultimately made the determination to align its decision with the recommendations of the Governor’s office and DPH to not hold high-risk sports at this time,” executive director Glenn Lungarini said. “In conversation with other state associations across the country, it was clear that a key factor in playing interscholastic football was alignment with the opinion of their state’s governor and state health agency.”
Consultations with DPH and the NFHS made it apparent that the CIAC’s football plan, though endorsed by the Connecticut State Medical Society’s Sports Medicine Committee, would not sufficiently mitigate the risk to lower the categorization of the sport from “high risk” to “moderate risk.”
Of particular concern to the CIAC: the DPH recommendation to postpone high-risk sports to a later time is limited to CIAC-sanctioned interscholastic athletics. Schools could opt to play full-contact football as a “club” sport, similar to girls ice hockey, without adherence to local DPH guidance or CIAC COVID mitigating plans.
New Jersey announces football postseason structure
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association announced on Sept. 16 that its football postseason will be played during Week 7 and Week 8, and will be referred to as “Post-Season Groupings.” No awards or trophies will be presented.
Participation in Post-Season Groupings will be open to any school opting to participate. Participating schools will be divided into pools, based on enrollment, geography and competitive balance, and each will play a two-game series. A seeding committee comprised of representatives from all five NJSIAA leagues and conferences will seed the field the weekend of Nov. 7. Post-Season Groupings will be announced on Nov. 8.
Wisconsin approves alternate fall sites
On Sept. 18, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association approved replacement sites for four of its fall state tournaments.
Assuming conditions allow for state culminating events to be contested, the WIAA Board of Control approved conducting the girls golf state meet at Blackwolf Run in Kohler on Oct. 12-13 and the girls swimming state meet at Waukesha South High School on Nov. 13-14. The girls individual (Oct. 15-17) and team (Oct. 23-24) tennis state meets will be conducted at separate sites, with the Division I meets at the Lake Geneva Tennis Club in Lake Geneva and the Division 2 meets at the Sports Core in Kohler. The state football playoffs are not scheduled beyond Level 2, the second round, which is set for Nov. 19-20.
The moves became necessary when the WIAA and the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced that no fall state tournaments would be conducted on the UW campus due to COVID-19 restrictions in Dane County, where the campus is located.