It certainly has been a strange transition for high school football practice this year, going from heat advisories in August to winter storm warnings in February.

After starting practice on Feb. 8, Wilkes teams will kick off the seven-game season under this week’s Thursday night lights. The games were moved up a day due to Friday’s rainy forecast.

The N.C. High School Athletic Association on Thursday modified some aspects of how the season will be conducted with an emphasis on player and spectator safety.

For starters, players will be required to wear face coverings underneath their helmets. The face covering can attach to the helmet or facemask as long as the attachment straps aren’t outside the facemask.

According to NCHSAA guidelines, players and coaches must wear face coverings at all times during games. Gaiters are not allowed for players in the contest but are permissible for coaches and non-player personnel (like me, whom you’ll find hopefully not shivering too hard on the sideline).

If a football player has trouble breathing because they’re wearing a mouthguard and/or helmet, they may remove the face covering on the sideline, according to the NCHSAA. The only caveat for “respiratory recovery” is that the player must sit out at least one play.

All coaches and other support staff must wear a face covering at all times. The coaching staff, administration and licensed athletic trainers or first responders are responsible for making sure players wear their face coverings.

Inside the now-extended sideline “team box,” players must maintain social distancing of six feet at all times and should not share uniforms, towels and other apparel or equipment.

Players are strongly recommended to keep their helmets on and properly fastened while on the sideline during play, according to the NCHSAA.

Concerning spectators at football games, they’ll be limited to no more than 100 home-team fans. Schools are charged to ensure that spectators remain mostly seated during games.

Players, coaches, workers, entertainers, media and support staff do not count toward the capacity limits. Cheerleaders and bands are considered “entertainers,” according to the NCHSAA.

However, on Thursday, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper said he will issue a new executive order this week which could include loosening restrictions on the number of spectators allowed at high school football games.

The sale of concessions wasn’t explicitly addressed by the NCHSAA, but Marc Payne, commissioner of the Mountain Valley 1A/2A Athletic Conference, chatted about it with me on Thursday.

“The problem is when people go to the concession stand, how we get them to not congregate and go to the restroom and so forth. Most people probably don’t want to buy prepackaged items only” but that’s all that likely will be sold, he added.

Regarding hydration and food, the NCHSAA has said that there will be no sharing of water bottles. All football players must bring their own water bottle, clearly marked with their name.

Food won’t be allowed to be shared. Hydration stations (water troughs, water fountains, etc.) won’t be utilized by individuals. Schools must designate one person to refill water bottles when needed.

In one of the most unorthodox requests made by the NCHSAA, visiting football players are strongly encouraged to wear their uniforms to any contest. This is to limit potential locker room coronavirus exposure.

Football, like all other prep sports in 2020-21, has a different look this year, but the steps taken by the NCHSAA are necessary ones to make the season a reality.

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