Updated at 7:15 p.m.:
GREENSBORO — High school athletes in Guilford County will be able to resume workouts July 6, Guilford County Schools announced today, but only teams in fall sports will be allowed to participate.
High school athletics in North Carolina were shut down March 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The N.C. High School Athletic Association’s “dead period” ended Monday, and some Triad school districts allowed their high schools to return to workouts at that time.
GCS, however, decided to take what district athletics director Leigh Hebbard termed a more “measured” approach and announced that the return would be limited to fall sports workouts and marching band training.
"Other sports and middle school athletics may be phased in at a later time," a news release from GCS stated. "Reopening is dependent on the district’s ability to secure needed protective equipment and train staff to facilitate the new health and safety requirements. Our timeline could change depending on public health guidance or other state directives."
Participants will be required to sign waivers attesting to their health status and will be given a health screening and a temperature check with a touchless thermometer before each day’s activities, the district said. Any athlete with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be sent home and must be medically cleared before resuming workouts.
Hebbard, the county’s athletics directors, will train the schools’ athletics directors and trainers in how to implement the guidelines, and they will be responsible for training their coaches.
The county’s athletics directors had discussed training before the announcement, Grimsley AD Ethan Albright said, but it was “hard to discuss it when it changes every day. Now we’ve got some rules of engagement that we can get ahead of.”
These are some of those “rules of engagement” provided in today’s GCS news release (others can be found here):
• Only outdoor practices and activities will be allowed at this time. Indoor activities are prohibited during the initial phase of reopening.
• Weight rooms, mat rooms and locker rooms will remain closed.
• Gatherings in outside venues/areas are limited to no more than 25 people. This includes students, coaches, trainers and any other personnel.
• To limit gathering sizes, participants will be assigned to a smaller group of no more than 10 students and must remain with their group or pod at all times during the practice/workout/rehearsal.
• Spectators will not be allowed.
• Participants must maintain 6 feet of distance from others at all times, including during workouts/practices/rehearsals.
• Participants are expected to wear face coverings while on campus, except during physical exertion or if doing so interferes with their ability to play their musical instrument. All staff members are expected to wear face coverings at all times.
• Personal equipment, including water bottles, towels, clothing, musical instruments and other items, must be taken home and cleaned between practices. If used, school equipment will be cleaned and sanitized daily by district personnel.
• Equipment, including water bottles and musical instruments, may not be shared between players or participants. Towels, clothing and other personal items may not be shared.
“We’re going to try to reach every one of the marks as best we can,” Albright said.
For coaches accustomed to offseason workouts with their athletes, it has already been a challenge dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Aug. 21 scheduled opening night of high school football may still be more than two months away, but this would normally be a busy time of year for players and coaches.
“We’ve already missed the spring football (skill development), the conditioning, the lifting,” said Eastern Guilford’s Tony Aguilar, who is entering his second season as the Wildcats’ head coach. “We normally would’ve cranked up summer workouts Monday. We would’ve had two seven-on-sevens this week, two next week and three the week after. It would’ve been full go.”
Now they’re facing workouts at which only one player can handle a football, so no snaps, no handoffs and no passing. In volleyball, that will mean players can only hit a ball against a wall. In soccer, players can pass a ball back and forth but cannot head it or trap it with their body, and goalkeepers can’t work on saves.
It’s a new world for high school athletics, but coaches are most concerned with the health and safety of their athletes.
“We’ll just have to be patient until July 6,” Aguilar said, “and hope that works out. … It’s just scary. We just don’t know.”