The National Federation of State High School Associations hosted a webinar on Monday afternoon to address their current thoughts to sports returning in the 2020-2021 school year.
Executive Director Dr. Karissa Niehoff was the speaker for the over one-hour event. Niehoff stated that the NFHS believes that students need to return but as safetly as possible. Citing a study recently done by Wisconsin, she pointed an increase of depression of high school students likely linked to the lack of activities and interaction related to school. (study link: https://www.wiaawi.org/Portals/0/PDF/Health/Covid/SchoolClosureImpact_McGuine.pdf)
The NFHS is also currently into a second month of an Aerosol Study. The study will last six months and is taking a look at performance arts such as band and singing. Initial findings show that masking is needed as much as possible and cites multiple recommendations to resume such activities. The study will further evaluate speaking, theatre, and aerobic exercise. (study link: https://www.nfhs.org/articles/unprecedented-international-coalition-led-by-performing-arts-organizations-to-commission-covid-19-study/)
Dr. Niehoff said the NFHS is monitoring the decision-making of state associations for fall sports. As of July 27th, twenty-seven states have made no changes. Twenty-four states have made some form of modification. Six of those states will not have any fall football. Those states include New Mexico, California, Nevada, Washington, Virginia and the District of Columbia. State across the country are wanting students back. A growing trend is starting sports in January and going through June. (NFHS updated site: https://www.nfhs.org/articles/fall-sports-status-update/)
The NFHS recognizes the financial impact of the COVID-19 adjustments. State associations reported anywhere from $150,000 to over $2,000,000 in lost revenue due to the loss of winter and spring championships. Concerns are starting to grow that without fall championships states may need find reserves to dip into.
Dr. Niehoff and NFHS believe that if sports and activities are able to return and do so safely that a plan for fans needs to in place. The NFHS would like to see fans in attendance but also sees where this could be difficult, especially in high population density areas. That is why the NFHS in embarking on a $200 million initiative to help school with reduced fan attendance number put up to cameras to stream games. "Through its High School Support Program, the NFHS Network is offering up to two free Pixellot automated-production units for schools that lack production capabilities to stream events on the NFHS Network." (Full press release https://www.nfhs.org/articles/nfhs-network-offers-schools-two-free-production-units-to-stream-events-through-high-school-support-program/)
Also among the concerns in the availability of officials into the sports seasons. Several of the sports average official age is 50. Combining age along with the number of officials that live in areas of rising positive cases results in worries that officials may opt to not be as active this coming year.
Dr. Niehoff also mentioned that many eyes are on the state of Iowa. They are entering championship week of high school baseball and softball season. The state association allowed school to move forward with a season in late May with games starting June 15th. There have been a few games postponed due to positive tests. However Dr. Niehoff said that in positive news there didn't seem to be any spread due to the competitions in Iowa.
The webinar wrapped up with a few key points from the NFHS. First they ask to respect and follow CDC guidelines. The NFHS hasn't gone as far as to recommend testing for schools such as nasal swabs. They however do suggest on-site screening like temperature and symptom checks. It is also their position that answers are not one size fits all. Some sports may play while others don't and may play in some areas and not others.
One of the final points produced by Dr. Niehoff was that as school may come upon financial hardships that recouping those dollars doesn't happen at the expense of sports and activities. The budget allocated by schools is small already and making cuts will also hurt the culture of the schools.