Addressing a group of scholastic policy makers for the second time in less than a week Friday morning, KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett doubled down on the organization’s intentions to restart high school sports.
“We’re playing this fall,” Tackett said in a board of control meeting, echoing a statement three days earlier to the Interim Joint Committee on Education.
“We’re going to participate in athletics and activities this fall. We don’t know what it’s going to look like, but we’re going to.”
The last statement contains the operative words.
Tackett and the board moved ever-so-gradually toward that goal in this round of discussion, with plans to reevaluate and order the next steps on July 28.
Much of that framework, not surprisingly, will be determined by how the state rallies from a recent spike in diagnosed cases of the coronavirus.
For now, most sports will continue the return-to-play guidelines that have been in place since mid-June.
Teams may hold voluntary workouts for small groups — 10 of fewer athletes — with basic drills and conditioning activities.
Golf, a sport that stopped only briefly in the spring at the recreational level before introducing simple rules to reduce points of contact and emphasize social distancing, is the lone KHSAA activity that will be permitted to have full-fledged tryouts and practices by the traditional calendar.
Those players may hit the links July 15, with regular-season tournaments teeing off July 31.
“With minimal effort, the nature of that game allows people to socially distance,” Tackett said.
Other fall sports, which include football, soccer, volleyball and cross country, will continue on their current track until at least Aug. 3.
That could put the first round of regular-season games, all scheduled less than three weeks later, in jeopardy.
KHSAA held its discussion at the end of a week that saw other high school and college governing bodies around the nation announce postponements and cancellations. Concerns are particularly high surrounding football, which feature more frequent contact and attracts more participants and spectators than other fall sports.
“Football perception-wise has a different set of challenges, and yet maybe not as bad as some people believe,” Tackett said. “The sky is not really falling, but we’ve got to be smart. We’ve got to balance safety and knowledge.”
To that end, Tackett urged all administrators, coaches, athletes and fans with a vested interest in the fall season to wear face coverings whenever they are in public.
Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order that took effect Friday and requires the use of masks for the next 30 days in any setting where six feet of social distance is not possible.
“If our state wants high school sports, you’re going to have to do the (Centers for Disease Control) recommendations on masking, on distancing and on hand washing,” Tackett said. “You’re making a choice. Regardless of your motivation, you’re openly saying, ‘I don’t want us to get back to normal as fast as we could’ when you defy it.”
The mask requirement includes an exemption for any athlete while they are participating in practice activities.
Tackett underscored that no additional activities or equipment are allowed for teams that are now on the Aug. 3 time line.
He also cautioned schools to be prepared for “temporary interruptions” going forward.
While the continued life cycle of the virus could create a disappointing scenario for some individual schools, it would still be a better outcome than canceling a tournament or a season entirely, as happened in winter and spring.
“We’ve got to realize that’s going to happen,” Tackett said. “If we get to a week before district tournament and a particular school has to quarantine for 14 days, they may be out of the postseason. That’s just the way this virus works.”
Athletes in fall sports other than golf also are under what the KHSAA worded as a “strong recommendation” to limit activity to six or fewer hours per week.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.