GHSA to reopen sports June 8 with restricted conditioning

The Georgia High School Association will reopen sports activities June 8 after executive director Robin Hines got the thumbs up Thursday afternoon from his board of trustees in a 50-minute meeting conducted electronically.

High school teams and athletes in all sports can resume restricted voluntary workouts under their coaches’ supervision, Hines announced.

» MORE: What are the next steps?

“It’s time for us to get back to a sense of normalcy,’’ Hines said Thursday evening. “These kids have already been away from their fellow students for two-and-a-half months. They’ve already missed proms and honors nights. They’re ready to get back, and that’s been made clear to me from the hundreds of emails I’ve gotten from parents saying, ‘Please let our kids get going.’ It is time to get going.”

Hines acknowledged possible critics and the health risks posed by COVID-19.

“There are dangers every day,” he said. “We want to do the right thing and follow the science. All I can do is listen to the medical professionals, the doctors and the governor’s guidelines and make the best decisions that I can for our student-athletes.”

The approved workouts are for conditioning only, meaning no balls, bats or scrimmages. They come with restrictions that Hines presented to the trustees to ensure safety amid the pandemic.

The guidelines impose a limit of 20 athletes and coaches for each workout group. Participants must maintain social distancing, and masks or face covering is recommended.

Hines’ guidelines ban the use of school showers or locker rooms. Weight equipment must be cleaned prior to, and sanitized between, each workout.

“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,” Hines said in his message to the GHSA’s member schools. “Please make every effort to follow the recommendations and restrictions included in the guidance provided.”

» MORE: AJC coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Hines proposed a resumption that would be a week earlier, June 1, but trustees representing larger school districts argued that a week after Memorial Day would be too early. Those pushing for a later opening were athletic directors Jasper Jewell of Atlanta Public Schools, Steven Craft of Fulton County Schools and Curt Miller of Henry County Schools.

Hines conceded his disappointment with the delay but consented. Board of trustees president Glenn White echoed that sentiment.

“I understand the concern that some school systems are not able to do that due to the number of schools, and I empathize with that position,” White said. “The starting date of June 1 is fine, but I’ll also say I’m fine with June 8. Whatever works the best.”

Georgia won’t be the earliest to resume sports. Iowa announced the start of baseball and softball practices will be June 1 with games beginning June 15.

Georgia’s official sports seasons don’t begin until mandatory practices are allowed

July 27 for football and Aug. 1 for other fall sports. There was no discussion of those dates in Thursday’s board meeting.

GHSA guidance for voluntary summer conditioning:

» Schools/school systems may be more restrictive than the GHSA but not less. 
» Workouts are conditioning only, no balls or sport specific equipment.  
» Member schools should prepare an Infectious Disease Prevention Plan prior to staff and athletes returning to conditioning.
» It is recommended that staff and athletes are screened prior to each workout.
» Signage should be posted on site with the following:
• 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?
» Groups of 20, including coaches, for workouts per sport at any given time at the campus/facility. 
» Groups should be the same individuals (including coaches) for each session to limit risk of exposure. Student or coaches CANNOT change groups for the duration of this guidance.  
» No use of locker rooms or shower facilities. Students should report to the facility dressed to condition and shower at 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.  
» Each student should have their own personal water bottle. No use of water fountains or "water cows" is allowed. 
» Side spots only in weight training, safety bars are preferred.  
» Social distancing should be adhered to always and masks/face covering are recommended for the weight room.  
» At least 15 minutes should be scheduled between groups to allow for disinfecting the facility.  
» There is no competition allowed between schools.  
» No visitors are allowed at conditioning sessions.