The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has released guidance for its 51 member state high school associations to consider in re-opening high school athletics and other activity programs across the nation.

The guidance document was developed by the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC), a 15-member advisory committee composed of medical doctors, certified athletic trainers, high school coaches and officials, research specialists and state high school association executives that regularly develops position statements related to medical aspects of conducting high school athletics.

In sharing this guidance document (which is attached) with state high school associations leaders on March 18, Michael Koester, M.D., chair of the NFHS SMAC, stressed that the guidance developed by the committee is intended as ideas for state associations to consider with their respective sports medicine committees and state health departments in designing return-to-activity plans that will be in accordance with state or local restrictions.

Similar to the manner in which different parts of the country have re-opened ahead of others due to containment levels of the virus, the guidance document was developed with the realization that there likely will be variation in what sports and activities are allowed to be played and held from one part of the country to another.

Along those same lines, the NFHS guidance document describes a staged approach to re-opening high school sports and other activities, similar to the phases of “opening up” outlined by the White House last month. The committee suggests that state high school associations consult with their state and local health departments for determining the appropriate dates for implementing a phased-in approach within their respective states.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced earlier this month that it will suspend the coronavirus dead period on June 1, however that does not mean sports in North Carolina will resume then.

The NCHSAA said state and local governments, including the governor and local school districts, must first approve the resumption of athletics.

High school sports have not been played in North Carolina since March 13. Spring sports were canceled after two weeks of the regular season and basketball state championship games were not played. Instead, the NCHSAA board of directors voted last month to name co-state champions in boys and girls basketball.

North Carolina begins phase two of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper's three-phase plan to reopen the state. Some athletic facilities, such as pools (at 50 percent capacity), will be permitted to reopen during phase two.

Gyms and fitness centers, which were expected to reopen during phase two, will still be closed. Phase two is expected to last at least five weeks.

“We are greatly indebted to the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for its work in formulating this guidance for re-opening high school athletics and activities,” said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director. “It is important to be clear that this is guidance for individual states to consider as they return to activities this fall. States will utilize the guidance in this document as it best fits their state after consulting with local and state health departments.”

The guidance developed for state associations suggests a possible sport breakdown for higher risk, moderate risk and lower risk, with the basis for the breakdown tied to the potential exposure to respiratory droplets.

As an example, the interaction of participants in higher-risk sports such as football and wrestling present more of a concern for transmission of the virus than lower-risk sports like individual running events and golf.

The 2020-21 NCHSAA fall sports season is still scheduled to begin on Aug. 1, with the first official fall contests permitted to begin on Aug. 17.

Both the NCHSAA and NFHS will issue updates in accordance with state and national updates in the coming months.

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