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It appears high school sports teams might be able to resume practice in a limited capacity in early June, but summer activities or competitions such as football OTAs, 7-on-7s and other sports play dates have been canceled, according to a Thursday release from the Alabama High School Athletic Association.

The status of fall sports activities, including football, volleyball and cross country, have not been decided or announced.

State schools along with all AHSAA athletic practices and athletic fields have been officially closed since March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, the AHSAA announced that its Central Board has canceled all summer competitions, though schools may still hold camps with their own students and feeder school students.

Also in the release, the AHSAA said Alabama Department of Education Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey informed the association that he was “hopeful that state schools will reopen campuses on June 8 and start the 2020-21 school year as planned.”

If Mackey does reopen schools on June 8, AHSAA athletic teams could begin holding on-campus workouts in a maximum of 10 per group setting. The workouts would have to follow official health and safety guidelines that are expected to be released on or before next Friday, May 22.

Those guidelines are expected to focus on physical distancing, group activities based on square footage, respiratory coverings (face coverings), sanitizing equipment, hand washing and other items. The guidelines, according to the AHSAA release, will be recommendations and left up to local schools to implement and regulate.

The latest developments come after teleconferences this past Tuesday and Wednesday between AHSAA officials, AHSAA planning committees, AHSAA Medical Advisory Board members Dr. James Robinson and Dr. Jeff Davis, plus Mackey and Assistant State Superintendent Terry Roller.

AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese stressed the latest recommendations could be subject to change if there was an uptick in state cases because of the COVID-19 virus.

“I ask everybody to remain current because data changes on a daily basis,” Savarese said in a Dothan Eagle interview Thursday afternoon. “We are in a very fluid situation. If our numbers were to increase and the Alabama Department of Education would become more restrictive, we would have to adapt accordingly.

“Right now our main focus is June 8 that we will be able to open in some groups. There will be no competitions and we will be able to come back and work with our kids all summer long with skill development, to work with them in weightlifting and conditioning workout-type environments.”

In accordance with AHSAA bylaws, mandatory summer practices are prohibited, but weightlifting, conditioning, individual skill development and workouts are under the jurisdiction of local schools. However, the AHSAA requires that all schools comply with all ALSDE and ADPH guidelines including, but not limited to, the number of students within non-interchangeable groups and the overall number of groups. Local schools may use a process to determine the student-athletes who make up the individual groups.

“There are two major differences (now from previous years),” Savarese said of the current summer plans. “One, they will have to follow the COVID-19 health guidelines for safety purposes and the other is there are no summer competitions. Everything else remains just about the same as they always have been in the summer.”

In addition to working on health guidelines for schools possibly reopening on June 8, the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) is also working with five other states to create a “road map” for best practices to start the school year in August, including athletics, said Thursday’s AHSAA release. Those “road map” of “best practices” is expected to be released around June 19, said the release.

Savarese said the latest developments were positive steps for the AHSAA.

“They are definitely a step in the right direction,” Savarese said. “While maintaining caution, it provides an opportunity for schools to practice. The recommendations and guidelines, once they are released from our medical advisory board plus the state department of education, will provide them an opportunity to get accustomed to practice. The health guidelines are there to protect student-athletes and themselves (coaches). I am confident, if all of us do what is asked of us, the further along we go, the restrictions will be lessened.”

In other developments, the AHSAA said schools should prepare “alternatives” for conducting physicals for the upcoming year, noting mass physicals on the same day at one location “appear very unlikely.” The AHSAA Medical Board recommended students get a physical from their primary care provider prior to the first practice date.

The AHSAA also announced amended evaluation guidelines for fall, winter and spring sports teams.

Fall sports can start practice one week earlier if they did not conduct a spring evaluation and may use this week as a tryout period.

Winter sports, for this year only, may hold an evaluation period during the first two weeks of school (five days within a five-day consecutive period) or start practice one week earlier, but not both.

Spring sports, for this year only, may hold a regular evaluation period (five days out of a 10-day consecutive period) any time after the first two weeks of school during the first semester or begin practice one week earlier in January, but not both.

In addition, for this year only, if spring sports chose to conduct a regular evaluation period in the fall (five out of 10 days) or start practice one week earlier, they may hold an additional five-day evaluation period within five consecutive days in the spring after the completion of their season.

David is a sports writer for the Dothan Eagle.

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