Athletes to return Monday after 11-week COVID-19 hiatus; temperature checks among precautions
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high school sports in the state of Oklahoma have been on a total shutdown, with athletes locked out of school-owned facilities for more than 11 weeks.
That will come to an end Monday at 7:45 a.m., 82 days after the last soccer ball was kicked at Memorial Stadium, when El Reno High School football players begin showing up for summer strength and conditioning drills.
What will greet them will be something none have seen before, a strict set of guidelines by the district to deal with athlete participation as the state pulls back the shutters from the virus lockout.
“Our trainer will be the district supervisor along with our coaches and we will have a sign-in sheet. We will be following the guidelines that the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association presented last week that failed,” said El Reno Superintendent Craig McVay.
McVay sits on the OSSAA board of directors and voted against the proposed three-step plan presented because he felt the language in the plan did not work for all districts in the state. The measure failed by a 7-6 vote.
That meant the district would have to develop and implement its own safety plans for athletes to avoid the spread of COVID-19. McVay met with El Reno coaches and Athletic Director Rodney Haydon last week to hash out the first two stages of a reopening plan for EHS athletes.
“Phase 1, we will not be doing anything different from the OSSAA plan. We will re-examine at the end of Phase 1 and come back together and talk about the other stages,” said McVay.
Phase 1 will run June 1-30 and will deal solely with conditioning and agility workouts. Phase 2 will run July 1-14 and deals with the beginning of practices for fall sports other than football. Phase 3, set for July 15 to the start of the 2020-21 school year on Aug. 13, will deal with regular season contests for sports other than football.
Football, according to the OSSAA Blue Book of Rules, can begin limited practices on Aug. 10 and full-contact practices four days later.
“I’m not worried about anything right now other than Phase 1. We expect this to be a fluid situation and we all agree there needs to be safety measures in place. We will monitor ourselves and we don’t need the OSSAA telling us how to stay safe in El Reno,” said McVay.
Haydon says the district’s plan for all sports is safe and will protect athletes.
“I feel good about this plan and getting back into the facilities in the safest way we can. It gives us some leeway to get back into our spaces and try and get the process started and getting the kids back out there.
“More importantly than lifting weights is having the kids safe and we feel this plan is a good way to open in a safe way,” said Haydon.
Haydon said he will meet again with coaches so they can begin scheduling kids into the weight rooms at Jenks Simmons Field House and the Blue Room at Memorial Stadium.
Trainer Adam Burns will spearhead the screening of athletes as they enter the various sporting venues and the following guidelines will be strictly enforced:
▶ Social distancing of 6 feet will be followed.
▶ Number of athletes in any weight rooms will be limited according to square footage.
▶ Staggered start times for each sport in the weight rooms will be followed to allow the trainer to conduct player health evaluations.
▶ Each athlete will fill out a short medical survey before beginning.
▶ Each athlete will have a temperature check before entering any facility. A temperature reading of 100.4 or greater will require the athlete to be sent home and checked out by a medical professional. Athletes must be free of a fever or any COVID-19 symptoms for 24 hours before returning.
▶ Masks will be worn indoors at all times by everyone, coaches and athletes, except for the lifter.
Once a set is completed, the lifter will be required to put on a mask. Masks can be either cloth or medical grade but will have to be provided by each athlete.
“We ordered 3,000 masks for the entire district but they have not arrived yet,” said McVay.
▶ Locker rooms will be off limits to athletes.
▶ Workouts will be limited to 60 minutes.
▶ Each weightlifting apparatus will be wiped down after each use and the entire room deep-cleaned each day after use.
“It comes with a cost to implement this plan, but saving the lives of our kids and keeping our staff and players safe is our number one concern,” said McVay.
The district will not have a mandatory quarantine of 14 days for players nor will there be mandatory testing for COVID-19. McVay said the district has had only one student test positive for the virus since school sites were shut down before spring break.
The reopening plan does spell out what will happen if an athlete shows signs of the virus and has a confirmed diagnosis from a medical provider.
“If we have a positive test, we will shut down the facility for three days for deep-cleaning and then another 14 days for quarantine. That’s what we can do to make it as safe as possible,” said McVay.
While he approved the June 1 reopening date, a breakout of the virus after athletes return worries McVay.
“Having an athlete or a coach test positive is my biggest fear. I worry about opening up June 1 and then we get notification of a positive test and we have to shutdown and we go back to square one,” said McVay.