The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has released guidance for its 51 member state high school associations to consider in re-opening high school athletics and other activity programs across the nation.
The guidance document was developed by the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC), a 15-member advisory committee composed of medical doctors, certified athletic trainers, high school coaches and officials, research specialists and state high school association executives that regularly develops position statements related to medical aspects of conducting high school athletics.
In sharing this guidance document with state high school associations leaders on Monday, Michael Koester, M.D., chair of the NFHS SMAC, stressed that the guidance developed by the committee is intended as ideas for state associations to consider with their respective sports medicine committees and state health departments in designing return-to-activity plans that will be in accordance with state or local restrictions.
Similar to the manner in which different parts of the country have re-opened ahead of others due to containment levels of the virus, the guidance document was developed with the realization that there likely will be variation in what sports and activities are allowed to be played and held from one part of the country to another.
Along those same lines, the NFHS guidance document describes a staged approach to re-opening high school sports and other activities, similar to the phases of “opening up” outlined by the White House last month. The committee suggests that state high school associations consult with their state and local health departments for determining the appropriate dates for implementing a phased-in approach within their respective states.
“We are greatly indebted to the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for its work in formulating this guidance for re-opening high school athletics and activities,” said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director. “It is important to be clear that this is guidance for individual states to consider as they return to activities this fall. States will utilize the guidance in this document as it best fits their state after consulting with local and state health departments.”
The guidance developed for state associations suggests a possible sport breakdown for higher risk, moderate risk and lower risk, with the basis for the breakdown tied to the potential exposure to respiratory droplets. As an example, the interaction of participants in higher-risk sports such as football and wrestling present more of a concern for transmission of the virus than lower-risk sports like individual running events and golf.
The NFHS guidance document also addresses a possible progression for returning to activities, hygiene practices, transportation to and from events, social-distancing suggestions during contests and a tiered approach to who should be allowed to attend events.
The document lists three tiers: Essential - athletes, coaches, officials, event staff, medical staff and security; Preferred - media; and Non-Essential - spectators and vendors. Under the guidance, only Essential and Preferred personnel would be allowed to attend events until state and local health departments lift restrictions on mass gatherings.
The complete document can be viewed at www.nfhs.org. The Illinois High School Association, the governing body for prep sports in Illinois, has not commented on the guidance as of May 20.