COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Accelerate ED Task Force has left it up to the South Carolina High School League to address the state’s safety guidelines for athletic practices and games.
This decision also puts the burden on individual districts to map out COVID-19 athletic protocols. And, keep in mind, the South Carolina Independent School Association can also develop its plan on how to move forward.
So, there could be a lack of uniformity in how school districts and the two athletic bodies move forward. As of now, Midlands schools, if they so choose, are in phase one of the high school league’s three-phase plan that is currently in effect.
Mandatory COVID-19 testing for student-athletes is not part of a plan for schools in Richland 2. They’ll check virus symptoms before each practice, when summer workouts begin in the district on June 29th.
Tim Hunter, Spring Valley Athletics Director, says safety for everyone involved is priority one.
“Taking baby steps and following the guidelines,” said Hunter.
The South Carolina High School League’s safety guidelines detailed how schools should conduct workouts. The district and state also laid out recommendations.
It includes daily COVID-19 symptom checks for students and coaches. If there’s a positive COVID-19 case, the district nurse for each school will handle the contacting tracing steps.
Still, questions remain on when sports, like football, can begin contact drills. A critical one centers on team competition and how to ensure opponents enforce the same safety guidelines.
“I’m sure they will have protocols in place for that,” mentioned Hunter. “We’re in a situation right now where we don’t know.”
The high school league has yet to detail Phase 2 and Phase 3 guidelines for sports.
At Newberry High, the Bulldogs postponed Phase 1 practices, in part due to COVID-19 concerns.
“We’re unprecedented waters,” said Newberry head football coach Phil Strickland. “Nobody has ever been here. We don’t know what to expect. I think this thing is so contagious; it’s going to be tough for everybody to get on board and do what they need to do right now.”
At Lexington High, the Wildcats have resumed summer workouts. So far, coach Perry Woolbright says there are no positive COVID-19 cases. He knows at any moment, the green light to practice on the proving grounds could turn red.
"It's important to take advantage of the time we do have with them, and progress and handle what they give us," said Woolbright.
Like many coaches, coach Woolbright keeps his focus on player safety as he wonders if there will be a season at all.
“Going back to all the years my dad’s coached, I don’t think he ever had a situation if you worried about even having a season,” said Woolbright. “That’s a realistic thing. But, we told the kids that’s down the road, we can’t worry about that right now.”
And time with the student-athletes, even socially distanced workouts, brings tremendous joy to Blythewood head coach Jason Seidel.
“We got to get these kids together doing something as close together as they can,” said Seidel. ]“Try to get back to something that we know. Staff is excited. The point, in my opinion, is to be around them as much as we can be around them.”
In coach Seidel’s opinion, he’s unsure if the high school season would start on time. The 2020 season is tentatively set to kick off in about seven weeks. He believes his student-athletes will take every precaution possible to play under the lights this fall, hopefully.
“Richland 2 and throughout the state, kids are scared,” said Seidel. “I think they want to make sure they’re doing it the right way. I think they’ll abide by every rule possible and do their part to make sure they have a season.”
Hunter discussed the financial aspect of sports resuming and how athletic expenses would increase for travel. Coupled with the potential loss of revenue at the gate for football, the school expects a negative financial impact. That said, Hunter believes finances will not determine whether or not Spring Valley competes this fall.