Football, a sport identified as “Higher Risk” for spreading COVID-19 in “Guidance for Opening Up Hawaii High School Athletics,” is among those tentatively scheduled to be eligible to start team practice Aug. 17.
Prep sports officials are reviewing the guidelines produced by the Hawaii High School Athletic Association amid health and safety concerns brought on by COVID-19. The last high school sports event in Hawaii was contested in March.
“Decreasing potential exposure to respiratory droplets” and possible spread of the coronavirus is the first cited point of emphasis in the document. It addresses a wide range of concerns including sanitation, social distancing, mask wearing, sharing of equipment, transportation and the possibility of having to pause or cancel seasons.
The document is based on recommendations published by the CDC and National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), HHSAA spokesperson Natalie Iwamoto said Monday.
It has been approved by the state Department of Health, HHSAA executive director Chris Chun said last week. It will also be vetted by the DOE and state attorney general’s office and HHSAA expects the entire review process to be done next Monday.
“Right now it’s the general guidelines for restarting athletics, overall,” Iwamoto said. “Our guidelines are in line with Gov. Ige’s phases of reopening the state. Hopefully we can publish these next week if there are no more hurdles to jump over. We’ll also make sports-specific guidelines, starting with the fall sports.”
Two fall sports, air riflery and bowling, are identified in the guidelines as Lower Risk sports for spreading the virus.
“We’re confident those sports can go, no problem,” Iwamoto said.
Football has the largest number of participants and spectators, and the most contact. Cheerleading is considered a Higher Risk sport.
Prep football games are tentatively slated to start in early September, but Saint Louis School coach Ron Lee said there are too many uncertainties, and suggests moving football to start in late December or early January.
“If we start and get a few cases what is the protocol there? Sit out two weeks? The whole team? What happens? That, to me, is the No. 1 question,” Lee said.
Also, in recent weeks, the likelihood of two Interscholastic League of Honolulu football teams playing this fall decreased with news that Mid-Pacific student-athletes will not participate as part of the Pac-Five combined-schools team, and Damien fired its football coach and made other staff cuts.
Contingency plans are in place where football can start playing games as late as mid-October, Iwamoto said.
“If we’re not able to go at our projected start date, we will push the start of football, or any sport, as late as needed,” she said. “October was the last agreed upon threshold. That can change depending on the situation.”
The HHSAA guidelines include the following optimistic note:
“As state and local COVID-19 prevalence decreases, the need for strict social distancing and the use of face coverings will lessen. Look to guidelines from the DOH.”