GHSA

The Georgia High School Association has set June 8 as a return date for its member schools to start conditioning for high school sports.

In a memo sent to member schools on Thursday, GHSA Executive Director Dr. Robin Hines laid out the plan to the GHSA Board of Trustees during an online meeting, which was broadcast on the National Federation of High Schools website (nfhs.org).

"The plan is restrictive and provides for conditioning only," the memo stated. "As the data related to COVID-19 continues to improve, restrictions may be reduced after input from our health care professionals and guidance from our governor. Please make every effort to follow the recommendations and restrictions included in the guidance provided as you return to conditioning. Keep in mind that the majority of your athletes have "de-conditioned" the past two months and need to work into what would be normal for this time of year. Reduce the work and gradually increase the workouts with time.

"Finally, ensure that your school and system leadership are aware of this guidance and have the opportunity to provide input into your plan to move forward with conditioning and for preparing and maintaining your facilities. Keep in mind that member schools may be more restricting than the guidance, but may not be less restrictive. There has never been a time more critical for athletic departments, school administrators and system level administrators to work together.

"Thank you for all you do for your athletes and please follow the guidelines appropriately and keep everyone safe."

Hines gave credit to Governor Brian Kemp and Dr. Ron Courson, the Senior Associate Athletic Director of Sports Medicine at the University of Georgia, for their input over the past two months.

The restart plan comes two months after the GHSA suspended all practices and contests on March 26, the same day Kemp extended a mandatory closing of schools until April 24. Then on April 1, an order by Kemp closed school buildings for the rest of the school year and the GHSA would make the decision to cancel the remainder of the spring sports season a day later.

The memo went on to lay out the recommendations and restrictions that will be in place in order for conditioning to start back up across the state.

Among those recommendations include that all summer work will be voluntary. Schools and school systems may be more restrictive than the GHSA, but not less, and that workouts are conditioning only, so no balls or sport-specific equipment will be allowed.

The member schools should prepare an infectious disease prevention plan prior to staff and athletes returning to conditioning and that it is recommended that staff and athletes are screened prior to each workout, while signage should be posted on site with the following questions:

* Do you or have you had a fever in the last week?

* Have you been diagnosed with COVID-19?

* Have you been in contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19?

* Have you traveled to a "hot spot" for COVID-19?

If the answer is "yes" to any of those questions, the athlete should not participate in any workouts for 14 days. A sample monitoring form to track all the answers to the questions was also attached.

Groups of up to 20, including coaches, will be allowed for workouts per sport at any given time at the campus or facility. Those groups, individuals and coaches, should remain in place for each session to limit risk of exposure and students and coaches cannot change groups for the duration of the guidance.

Furthermore, there will be no use of locker rooms or shower facilities. Students should report to the facility dressed to condition and shower on returning home.

Weight equipment should be cleaned prior to each workout and sanitized between use by each student. Hand sanitizer should be plentiful and readily available and each student should have their own personal water bottle as there should be no use of water fountains or "water cows" allowed.

Only side-spotting will be allowed during weight training and the use of safety bars is preferred. Social distancing rules should be adhered to and masks or face coverings are recommended for use in the weight room. At least 15 minutes should also be scheduled between groups to allow for disinfecting of the facility.

No competition will be allowed between schools during this time and no visitors will be allowed during conditioning sessions.

The memo closed by stating that the recommendations and restrictions are fluid and are subject to change.

"Safety must be our top priority," Hines said.

The original plan was to allow for conditioning to begin on June 1, but the decision was made, at the request of several members of the Board of Trustees, to push the start back an extra week to allow for more time to adequately plan and prepare for the restart.

Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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