Cary-Grove football players take notes as they watch video of plays from last year during football practice at Cary-Grove High School on Tuesday, June 25, 2019 in Cary.
Cary-Grove football players take notes as they watch video of plays from last year during football practice at Cary-Grove High School on Tuesday, June 25, 2019 in Cary. — Matthew Apgar -

The Sports Medicine Advisory Committee of the National Federation of State High School Associations released a document on Tuesday offering guidance on how state associations can consider opening up high school athletics across the country.

While the NFHS’ SMAC believes physical and mental well-being of high school students can directly relate to athletic competition, it also recognized that doing it safely during the COVID-19 pandemic will be a monumental task.

The SMAC also pointed out that is it not likely that all students will be able to return to athletic activity at the same time in all schools. Some sports, such as golf, running events and swimming, are considered lower risk, while sports like football, wrestling and lacrosse, where contact is inevitable, will be higher risk.

The SMAC strongly urges the NFHS state associations to work with state and local health departments to develop policy regarding coordinated approaches for the return to activity for high school, club and youth sports.

The coronavirus outbreak forced cancellations in Illinois of the state boys basketball tournaments in all four classes, as well as that of all spring sports.

Athletes, coaches and fans all want to return to sports for the fall season, and a football season is the largest revenue driver for the IHSA. But the recommendations presented in the NFHS’ document for guidelines point out the difficulty doing that.

The SMAC recommends three phases in the process to return to sports. Phase 1 would include all athletes and coaches be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, including a regular temperature check, recording and storing screening questions and not allowing anyone with positive symptoms to participate in practices.

It also suggests no gatherings of more than 10 people, no use of locker rooms and working out in small groups.

Phase 2 loosens up to allow up to 50 individuals to gather for outdoor workouts, locker rooms to be used with social distancing practiced and, again, workouts in smaller groups.

Phase 3 would prevent anyone with a fever or cold symptoms in the previous 24 hours from taking part in workouts, records kept of all individuals present and allow vulnerable individuals to resume public interactions while practicing physical distancing.

An idea on how challenging the process could be can be found in the examples in Phase 1.

• A basketball player can shoot with a ball, but a team should not practice/pass a single ball where multiple players touch the same ball.

• A football player should not participate in team drills with a single ball that will be handed off to other teammates. Contact with other players is not allowed and players should not share tackling dummies or sleds.

• Volleyball players should not use a single ball that others touch or hit.

• Softball and baseball players should not throw a single ball amongst the team. A single player may hit in cages. A single player may throw batting practice (with a netting backstop and no catcher. Prior to the next athlete hitting, the balls should be cleaned individually.

• Wrestlers may skill and drill without touching a teammate.

Sports considered “high risk” according to the guidelines are football, wrestling, lacrosse and competitive cheer and dance.

Sports considered “moderate risk” are basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer, water polo and gymnastics.

Those considered as “lower risk” are track and field, golf, swimming and cross country.