High school athletic competitions will return this fall, state superintendent of education Eric Mackey said at a news conference Friday morning.
Mackey announced at the news conference that all Alabama schools are set to reopen for in-person learning this fall. Alabama schools closed in March due to the coronavirus, and athletic activities were eventually called off for the rest of the school year.
“We will have extracurricular activities and co-curricular activities on campus. They will look different. And we’re still working through some of those, and again it may change from community to community.”
Many questions about how high school sports will change remain unanswered. Mackey said details about specific changes to high school sports will come and said he and AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese have talked frequently about possible changes.
“Can you social distance and physical distance the crowd? Yes. There are ways you can do that,” Mackey said. “We saw that at graduations, where families sat together but they were six feet away from the next family. All across the state we saw that, so there are ways we can make our gyms and stadiums safer for competition.”
Mackey also said sporting equipment will be cleaned as often as is practical for competition.
“There were early on some suggestions to clean the ball between every child touching it,” Mackey said. “Well, anybody who’s played volleyball knows you can’t do that and still play volleyball. But can you use a clean ball every time there’s a stop in the game? Probably you can do that. There are ways to make it safer and cleaner than what we’ve done before.”
Mackey said ideally the areas football players stand in on the sideline will be extended from between the 30-yard lines to perhaps between the 20s or 10s. And he does not want people uninvolved with the game to be on the sidelines.
“If you’re not coaching, we need to be distancing, and so there are ways we can reduce the congestion by reducing how many people are out there,” Mackey said.
Mackey said some cities have ordinances requiring facial coverings, so conversations will continue about how that affects players competing.
“Obviously we’ve got to think about how that applies to students,” he said. “It’s not always practical, and I’ve talked to many mayors and I know they’re working through those issues.”
Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer, said people have to be aware coronavirus outbreaks are likely.
“I think that’s got to be a consideration as local officials make decisions about when to resume and how to resume,” Harris said.
“… We really need people and encourage people to think through these things as carefully as possible to make sure that we minimize the risk of transmission of disease to every extent we can.”