The Georgia High School Association recently released new rule modifications and special considerations regarding the upcoming softball and football seasons.

On July 13, the GHSA released changes for softball that are meant to “decrease potential exposure to (COVID-19) by encouraging social distancing, limiting participation in administrative tasks to essential personnel, and allowing for appropriate protective equipment during practice and competition.”

The adjustments include additional responsibilities for host schools, modifications to player equipment, and extra precautions for players, coaches, and umpires.

On July 15, the GHSA elected to implement the use of football helmets in conditioning and practices. The use of helmets begins on July 20 and schools must sanitize them before and after each workout. Locker rooms are still prohibited, per the GHSA.

The Georgia High School Association also announced that they are working with their Sports Medicine Advisory Committee concerning moving through new phases of health restrictions.

They are planning on starting the acclimatization period on July 27, allowing the first date of practices to be Aug. 1, and the first contest dates which differ for each sport. The GHSA office said more information should be released following the meeting on July 22.

Fans will have to provide their own food and beverage during the 2020 softball season. One of the new rules with the most impact is that public concession stands are now prohibited.

The host schools are encouraged to enforce social distancing requirements in spectator and facility areas, and the hosts are also responsible for providing enough hand sanitizer for both teams.

Though there are slight equipment changes as part of the new modifications, there are no major alterations being put in place.

Clear, plastic face shields are still permitted this season. Cloth facial masks are recommended but not mandatory for players, coaches, and umpires. Players’ masks must be of a single color without lettering and pitchers cannot have a mask that is any tint of yellow.

Players are encouraged to use their own gloves, helmets, bats, and beverage bottles. Sunflower seeds are prohibited in the dugout and on the field, and player and team equipment has to be sanitized before and after each practice and game.

After each half inning concludes, the pitcher will be instructed to take the game ball to the dugout. Balls out of play are to be retrieved by the defensive team. Pitchers are not allowed to lick their fingers or blow into their hands prior to delivering a pitch. If this occurs, a “dead ball” will be called and the softball will be removed from play. Before play can resume, the pitcher’s hands must be sanitized.

As expected, there will be plenty of distancing guidelines for softball. Players are not allowed to exit the dugout to celebrate a home run and team huddles without physical distancing are prohibited. The six-foot distancing requirements also apply inside dugouts and may extend the dugout into a clearly marked “out of play” area.

This season, pregame plate conferences will consist of one coach from each team and the umpires. Coaches will remain outside the batter’s box near their dugout and the umpires will be behind the catcher’s box to exchange lineup cards.

Substitutions will be made with physical distancing to umpires and scorekeepers. When a timeout is called to make a substitution or challenge a ruling on the field, coaches must maintain proper distancing from the umpire.

Base coaches are to abide by distancing rules with their base runners at all times. The catcher and batter shall maintain physical distancing while the umpire dusts off home plate as well.

Along with the rule changes, there will be several field placement changes in 2020. The plate umpire will be positioned “deeper than normal” to call balls and strikes, whereas base umpires will be forced to uphold physical distancing from any players during rotations.

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