About the only thing we know right now regarding the return of high school sports around the country is there is no one plan that will work for every state.
"We're going to see a patchwork across the country," National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff said Monday afternoon during a Zoom session with media members.
"It's likely in a state, you will see some school districts back to full activity, others that are not and others that are delaying sports all together."
Niehoff said the federation is in regular communication with the 51 state associations, which includes Washington, D.C. There has been one consistent message in those communications.
"States want kids to be back in school, want kids to be participating in activities," Niehoff said.
Niehoff cited the results of a Wisconsin study of more than 3,000 student-athletes. The study reported more than three times greater incidents of anxiety, depression and disconnect, likely linked to not being connected to school or extra-curricular activities.
"We want to make sure that we're paying attention not just to COVID, but to the emotional and mental wellness of our students," Niehoff said. "The co-curricular environment allows them to develop their social skills in a different way than academics.
"The co-curricular experience is the second half of the school day."
The first half of the school day is equally important, Niehoff said. The NFHS would like for schools to be open for in-person sessions.
"Do it safely, do it appropriately, but we have to reconnect with our kids," Niehoff said. "We are supportive of kids coming back, assuming there are the safeguards in place."
If in-school learning is deemed not possible, Niehoff doesn't think that means that school automatically should not have athletics. The Missouri State High School Activities Association currently does not allow activities without students physically attending school.
"Personally, I believe that it's feasible," Niehoff said. "But I believe if there is concern about an optic that one might be more important than the other, I understand that."
Other items of note from the session:
The NFHS is taking some optimism from the summer high school baseball and softball seasons currently being played in Iowa that states could resume activities in the next few weeks.
"We have not gotten any information that any serious illnesses have occurred or that there had been any spread of COVID because of a sport situation," Niehoff said.
Not that there haven't been some glitches.
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"Some of those schools have had to quarantine, I think that's what we will be seeing for the country," she said. "I don't think it's realistic to expect that we will not be seeing testing that does not return positive cases.
"It's our hope that if there are positive cases, the symptoms will be mild for the young people."
The NFHS is in favor having fans at games when they resume, with the final decision coming at the local level.
"We support if you're bringing kids back to competition to find a way for fans to come back, if you have the staffing and the strategy in place," Niehoff said.
That would include proper social distancing in the seats, as well masks and other proper coverings at concession stands if open.
"It will be similar to going to the grocery store or another event," Niehoff said.
Finding officials has been difficult for the past few seasons. The coronovirus outbreak certainly won't help that situation.
"In some sports, the average age of officials is approaching 50 years old," Niehoff said. "Those will be officials that will be concerned about going back, especially where the COVID-19 numbers aren't on the decline."
An NFHS survey has shown without winter and spring championships, individual state associations have lost up to $2 million in revenue.
"If there are no fall championships, some state associations will be in dire straights financially and will have to dip into financial reserves to fund championships going forward," Niehoff said. "This is not a one-year problem, there are revenue impacts that go far beyond this calendar year."
Niehoff believes the best approach to resuming activities is to take them one by one and not have a blanket approach.
"There are some activities that are much lower risk because of distance between participants," she said. "We know a golf player is at much less risk than a football player. That may be the approach to take.
"I don't think a one size fits all approach is necessarily best practice, I think we can do this being thoughtful about one activity at a time."
There has been talk of parents having their children transfer from their school district if it does not offer sports in the fall.
"We're hearing there are families that are telling schools and state associations that if there are no sports this fall, they're moving," Niehoff said. "They're going somewhere else, they can commute to work. And that's a legal transfer if people move.
"When there's a legitimate change of address, that's a hard thing to fight. All the home school district is simply trying to keep people safe."
It is against the rules to transfer only for athletic reasons.
"That generally falls on the shoulders of the school principal to decide," Niehoff said. "I would be cautious if I was a state to relax transfer rules."
A total of 24 of 51 state associations have modified sports fall calendars so far. Six — California, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington and Washington, D.C. — will not play football this fall.