High school athletes found an ally Wednesday in Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff, who is in her second year as executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“Although there will be areas of the country where a return to the classroom and to activity programs may be delayed due to spiking COVID-19 cases, we believe the resumption of in-person classes, sports and other activities is crucial to the growth, development, and mental and emotional wellness of our nation’s youth,” Niehoff said in a statement posted on the NFHS website.

“It’s decision time in our nation’s schools. Will the 56 million-plus students in K-12 schools be able to return to the classroom for the first time since March or continue with their distance-learning format from home? And, will the 12 million participants in high school activity programs be able to take the field, court or stage? If only there were clear-cut answers to these questions.

“State association, education and government leaders are having a difficult time answering these questions as there is no one-size-fits-all solution. During the past four months, we have seen different parts of the country affected more than others at any given time, so one state’s plan may look different than another based on the current spread of the virus.”

Virginia will not have high school football in the fall.

The Virginia High School League announced Wednesday it will make a decision on July 27 from three possibilities:

r 1: Only golf and cross country in the fall. All other fall sports canceled.

r 2: Spring sports (except lacrosse) being shifted to the fall and vice versa

r 3: All sports played in truncated seasons from Dec. 14-June 26. Winter sports would be held Dec. 14-Feb. 20 (Dec. 28 first game); Fall sports would be held Feb. 15-May 1 (March 1 first game); Spring sports would be held April 12-June 26 (April 26 first game).

The New Mexico Activities Association released an amended sports calendar Wednesday after Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham recent announcement that contact sports would not be permitted because of the revised public health order.

The football and soccer seasons have been postponed.

Football has been rescheduled to start Feb. 22 with soccer a week earlier.

Cross country and the fall golf season are slated to begin Sept. 14 and volleyball Oct. 5. Wrestling, baseball, softball, tennis, track and field and the spring golf season are set to start April 5.

“Our goal as the NMAA Board was to have some season for these kids, especially the seniors,” Las Cruces Public Schools athletics director Earnest Viramontes said to the Las Cruces Sun-News. He is a NMAA Board member. “It’s a tough situation but there is a plan in place. We also know the reality of it is that it can change any day.”

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb said the state staying on Stage 4.5 for the next two weeks, but high school athletics is on track to move to Phase 2 Monday and that includes helmets, shoulder pads and contact for football.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association came out with a statement Tuesday: “As previously communicated to schools, the OHSAA is moving forward with our normal fall sports seasons and, as always, each school will determine which sports the sponsor. Three of the OHSAA’s fall sports have already been declared buy the governor as low-contact, including boys’ and girls’ golf, girls’ tennis and volleyball, meaning those sports can have competitions between schools. The OHSAA’s other fall sports, including cross country, field hockey, soccer and football, have not yet been approved by the governor to have competitions between schools. Those four sports can practice, but the governor must approve competition between schools. The OHSAA is working with the governor’s office toward safety protocols and permission for those sports this fall.”

The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission came out Wednesday with an updated fall schedule for football, soccer, volleyball, cross country, golf and cheer and when everything can begin.

“Our member state associations deserve a shout-out for their tremendous effort in working with governors and local and state health leaders,” Niehoff wrote. “Currently, there are eight states that have pushed back the start of the fall season – some due to mandates from state government – but they are all committed to offering some type of activities this fall if possible. While the high-risk sports may have to be delayed, state association leaders are trying to find the safest ways for students to be involved in activities this fall.”

Leaders are also saying that the cancellation of the spring sports continues to be a big learning experience.

“In a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine after the March shutdown of schools, 68 percent of the state’s student-athletes reported symptoms of depression by May,” Niehoff wrote. “Dr. Tim McGuine, University of Wisconsin researcher who serves on the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, said about 65 percent of Wisconsin student-athletes reported anxiety symptoms due to COVID-19 closures.

“This study confirms that involvement in high school sports and activities is absolutely vital to the social, emotional and mental health of high school students. So, with the realization that another shutdown would bring much pain and grief to our nation, how do schools continue to provide in-person learning opportunities amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

“First, there must be a realization that the pandemic is far from over. As a result, in order to conduct sports and other activity programs in a safe manner, it will take a resolve on the part of everyone to keep going and keep trying. Things will not look the same as in the past. And there should be an abundance of care for coaches, administrators, officials and others who are more susceptible to the virus than the students. But a return to play must be done with a positive and informed perspective to keep these programs going. We need to be in the moment and working together.”

Bernard Childress, Executive Director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, made it very clear last week.

“If we have any chance of having fall sports, we encourage everyone to wear a mask, maintain physical distancing, and wash hands to help everyone reach the goal of getting the numbers down,” he said. “The return on that investment would be that we do get to have fall sports on time this year.”

Mike Mathison can be reached at 270-505-1758 or mmathison@thenewsenterprise.com.

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