High school athletes throughout Ohio were given a beacon of hope when it was announced late last month that training for all sports would be permitted beginning May 26.
The next step for school administrators and coaches was implementing the numerous protocols put in place by the state during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
In helping to explain the importance of following a new set of rules that includes everything from having coaches wear face coverings to guidelines for how athletes can enter facilities, Wellington athletics director and girls soccer coach Lindsey Smith put together a PowerPoint presentation.
To stress the importance to the other coaches on staff of following the guidelines, Smith capitalized, underlined and bolded the word "serious" and reminded them that Wellington's head of school or the Ohio Department of Health could again shut down prep athletics at any time if the rules aren't followed.
"We've done multiple 'practice runs' with only a couple of athletes to ensure all of the protocols we have implemented are realistic and can safely support our student-athletes," Smith said. "The guidelines provided by the Ohio Department of Health were our guiding tenant. In addition, the (National Federation of State High School Associations) has provided several useful resources offering best practices that helped influence our decision-making."
Nearly all schools that responded to requests for information about their start-up practices didn't have their first day of official prep sports training until June 1, with most citing that the extensive guidelines laid out by Gov. Mike DeWine on Ohio's coronavirus website needed to be studied and carefully implemented.
Among the guidelines are that athletes and coaches need to continue maintaining 6-foot spacing between each participant.
That can prove to be particularly challenging in sports such as basketball, which the NHFS considers a "moderate risk" sport in a 16-page proposal it released in May for reopening prep sports.
The NFHS guidelines break down the reopening process in three phases, with "Phase 1" including screening all coaches and students for signs or symptoms of the coronavirus prior to workouts.
According to Reynoldsburg athletics director Jacob Perkins, his district is allowing only outdoor workouts initially, with indoor workouts beginning June 22.
"The biggest challenge will be making sure our coaches and athletes follow the protocols," Worthington Christian athletics director and boys basketball coach Kevin Weakley said. "Getting coaches, players and parents to adjust their thinking is challenging. A lot of people want to start back up and think they can just jump back into things the way they've always been. The other challenge is we are only allowing Worthington Christian students to use our facilities and only when a coach is present. With the weather improving, it's hard keeping people away from the facilities who don't have permission to be there."
Among the guidelines posted on Ohio's coronavirus website include that equipment and items related to each activity must be sanitized before, during and after every event.
Also, a "no-touch rule" that eliminates physical contact, including high-fives, huddles or other close contact before, during and after skill sessions, is being enforced.
According to the health and safety facility protocol that DeSales sent out to its families, all coaches are required to wear face coverings at all times around students and that scrimmages and games are not permitted. Only athletes and coaches are permitted in facilities and accurate attendance must be kept for every training session.
In addition, athletes must bring their own hand sanitizer and water bottle, must do a symptom check before all training sessions and wear face coverings in the weight room. Locker rooms are not available.
Some schools are requiring participants to sign a waiver before partaking in any training.
"Our coaches and athletes must complete a liability waiver prior to participation in any activities," Hilliard deputy superintendent Mike McDonough said. "Screening questions and temperatures will be taken prior to entrances into the facility. If athletes and coaches answer yes to any questions or have a temperature higher than 100.4, they'll be immediately sent home and should contact their medical provider. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 will result in that pod of athletes/coaches being shut down from all activity for 14 days."
According to Gahanna girls soccer coach Nick Eley, the challenge of working through the numerous protocols wasn't unexpected.
"Obviously starting out a season with the strict guidelines is not how any player, coach or administrator wants to start a season, but I remain hopeful that we will all get through this together," Eley said. "I feel we are blessed to be able to get out soon and start training and doing the thing we love. With the guidance from the OHSAA and the administration at Gahanna, we'll find a way to make it work and get out and train."