Kentucky High School Athletic Association says it is still planning for fall sports, with details still in the works; board meets Friday

Not only are Kentucky school districts trying to figure out out to get students back into the classrooms in the middle of a pandemic, but they are also looking for ways to safely operate their athletic programs.

Commissioner Julian Tackett of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association told superintendents at the weekly “Special Superintendents’ Webcast” July 6 that the association is working toward having fall sports, but cautioned, “What that looks like could change every day.”

“Right now we are moving along with playing our regular six sports in the fall, period,” he said. But, he reiterated, that could change rapidly depending on the course of covid-19 infections, according to a state Department for Education news release.

For the last few weeks, Kentucky high-school teams have been able to conduct voluntary workouts under strict guidelines that call for small groups, social distancing and daily health check-ins. That said, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported on July 1 that team workouts have already been halted in three school districts amid covid-19 concerns.

Tackett said it’s likely that high-school sports in Kentucky will shut down intermittently due to the coronavirus., Louisville’s WLKY-TV reports.

Tackett said many schools are asking about mask use in sports. He said the emerging standard is for masks to be required for everyone except those actually in play, but he noted that they are also allowable for athletes on the playing field. He said mask rules will be made by districts along with their local health departments. “We’ve been told that a statewide answer is not the best idea,” he said.

Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner of the state Department for Public Health, said student athletes with a fever of 100.4 degrees or covid-19 symptoms would need to be free of fever and symptoms for 72 hours before returning to any type of school activity, and that any sibling living with them would be quarantined along with them, and this barred from school attendance or athletic activities.

Tackett said crowds at sporting events are currently limited to 50, but the association is looking at a 50-percent capacity limit with six feet of social distancing.

To mitigate the limits on spectators, school districts can each get two free cameras for live-streaming sporting events. The release notes that the cameras are worth $5,000 and would cost districts about $2,500 to set up.

Guidance for concession stands and ticket sales will be forthcoming, though Tackett said all food at the stands will need to be prepackaged, with nothing made on-site. He also encouraged districts to be looking at smartphone-based online ticket sales, instead of cash.

Tackett also went over the rules for eligibility: As long as a district verifies enrollment at a particular school, whether for in-person or virtual learning, that student is eligible for sports at that school. If parents choose distance learning for their children when schools are open for in-person attendance, districts still can declare those students ineligible to participate in athletics. Sports participation is a privilege, not a right, Tackett said, and local districts can impose stricter standards.

The release notes that guidance for bands will go out soon and that a Kentucky Music Educators Association representative will be on the July 14 webcast to answer questions about the guidance.

WKYT-TV has published an interactive map of school-start dates for some counties. The Education Department issued more covid-19 guidance this week, “Covid-19 Considerations for Reopening Schools: Workplace Health and Safety.”

The KHSAA’s Board of Control will meet Friday and is expected to announce guidelines for the rest of July, Jason Frakes reports for the Louisville Courier Journal in an article about Tackett’s discussion with the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education on July 7. The board meeting can be found at KHSAA.org.

“We realize that we’re walking a tightrope here,” Tackett said. “There’s obviously perceived and, likely, real risks of participation in extracurricular athletics. But we are also in very many communities the No. 1 dropout prevention tool that you have. There are people in our communities that every one of you know would not be participating if there was not an athletics or activities opportunity. We’re trying to walk that tightrope delicately.”

Looking ahead to basketball season, Tackett said sports-medicine experts say it’s more dangerous than football: “That would surprise a lot of people, but they’re talking about vulnerability to the disease because it’s played inside – the ventilation, how long we practice, how long we play. There’s going to have to be some areas addressed there.”