ST. GEORGE — When the Utah High School Activities Association Board of Trustees met Tuesday to further discuss a return to play for athletes in the state, they affirmed plans to move forward with the fall sports season as scheduled. Even still, this year will look much different compared to prior seasons.
Prior to the Tuesday meeting, the board of trustees met July 9, when they voted to move ahead with plans for the fall season. Also during that meeting, the UHSAA laid out some return-to-play guidelines, which were further expanded in a sport-by-sport breakdown of guidelines and released on July 21.
As the fall sports seasons approaches, Southern Utah coaches are preparing for some big changes such as splitting up teams into groups to minimize exposure, taking temperatures before athletes enter facilities and tracking data.
For the Snow Canyon girls soccer team, Kenny Kunde, the head coach, has his team trained in accordance to the general guidelines, as well as to some of his own guidelines. For instance, during summer workouts, they have been making sure to have less than 50 people in the stadium. They are also performing temperature checks for all players prior to activities, sanitizing gear and prohibiting the use of communal water jugs.
The same guidelines were also implemented during tryouts. Kunde plans to continue keeping track of participants beyond cuts, which were on Wednesday. Once official team practices start, players will be separated into groups of six or seven and do all activities together. The only exception will be scrimmaging in practice.
This acts as a way of contact tracing. The objective for Kunde is to possibly minimize the exposure of athletes to the team as a whole, so that if one of the players does test positive, it will only impact a certain group of players and not the entire roster.
“There are going to be times at practice where the groups are going to have to play against each other. But for the most part, those groups will be together all season long in their little areas,” Kunde said. “That will help, I think, with some of that tracking that we have to do.”
A similar idea is being used by the Hurricane Tigers football team. Head coach, Skyler Miller, says his team has been divided into groups on the field and in the weight room since he took over the program. Each individual player is also expected to bring his own water bottle to practice, another thing Miller has been demanding of his players for a while.
Luckily, the Tigers are used to these types of practices, so they haven’t suffered any major changes. In the past, Miller’s aim has been to teach discipline and preparedness, and as a result, he said their summer has been fairly normal.
“We want to first and foremost be a problem solver, not a contributor,” Miller said. “Whatever mandates we’re asked to do, even though it may not be a popular thing, we just want to fall in line, do what we’re asked to do and focus on what we’re able to do as far as the football preparation. We’re used to being uncomfortable, that’s kind of how we create a culture.”
They have been aiming to create a sort of bubble around the football field, as Miller put it, “our own little world.”
The Tigers aren’t looking to dwell on the what-if scenarios surrounding the upcoming season. Instead they want to focus on the present and the things they can control.
At Dixie High School, the volleyball team and their new head coach, Erin Wedemeyer, have been participating in their team camp as well as in open gyms during the summer. Wedemeyer said that the team has seen some parents test positive for COVID-19 but no players have tested positive.
To combat the possible spread of COVID-19, the team has implemented strict guidelines that are similar to other sports. These include daily temperature checks before practice, no parents being allowed in the gym and no communal water coolers.
Kunde and Wedemeyer both said that they have spoken with their players about the inability to have team gatherings and functions during the pandemic as a protective measure. If a player was to test positive after a group gathering, the team could see an outbreak that could possibly shut them down for an extended period of time.
Kunde said that his players are being smart about the gatherings right now, but he admitted that they are teenagers who make poor decisions at times. He said it will be a battle this season as he tries to make sure his team is adhering to state, local and team guidelines on and off of the field.
Another focal point for Kunde has been about masks. While this topic can be politically fueled at times, Kunde wants people involved in his program to wear a mask for their team regardless of personal beliefs.
“We’re just doing our part to try to follow the guidelines and keep kids safe,” Kunde said. “We’re having our parent meeting here in the next day or two, and we’re going to talk about the importance of wearing masks when you’re out and about, not even for your sake, but just to make sure you’re doing it for the team’s sake. We’re just hoping that through some information and education, people can be smart and do their part to keep kids as safe as possible.”
Coach Wedemeyer admitted that she has yet not had a conversation with her players about masks, but that it may be necessary in the near future. The Flyers had an instance recently where a player’s uncle, who was visiting, had tested positive for COVID-19. During that time, that player had a sleepover with some of the other players.
I reached out to the parents and said, ‘I just can’t take a chance. Whether you were there just overnight, whether you had direct contact, it was in the environment.’ I talked to the girls about being safe. I haven’t had the mask discussion with them. I probably should, but I’m not one of those that is going to make it a political discussion. It’s a health issue. It’s also one that, for me, I’ve got a husband who’s susceptible, so every time I go out I have one on. The information is out there as far as what we need to do to be safe, and I want everybody to adhere to that because I want to have a season. I think we’ve got a great team this year, and I just want the season to continue. I don’t want anything messing that up.
Local coaches are willing to follow any and all of the guidelines laid out by the state to make sure that their squads can play the entire season as scheduled. While the season might look much different from the 2019 season, teams are going into the year with high hopes for finishing out the season.
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