The S.C. High School League executive committee voted June 25 to add some teeth to its return-to-play guidelines amid the coronvarius pandemic.
But commissioner Jerome Singleton and committee member Joe Quigley acknowledged that rising COVID-19 numbers in South Carolina are putting the fall sports season, including football, in jeopardy of not being played.
“If these numbers continue to go up, we probably won’t have sports in the fall,” said Quigley, the athletic director at North Myrtle Beach High School.
Said Singleton, “Something has to change, or our discussions about playing sports becomes moot.”
The state reported 1,291 new cases on Wednesday, with 27,842 total cases and 683 deaths since the pandemic started. Charleston County has seen the highest number of new cases on average over the past seven days, followed by Horry and Greenville counties.
Singleton acknowledged that SCHSL schools have had athletes test positive for COVID-19.
“A few schools have said they have had student-athletes contract the virus, but we don’t know where it came from,” he said
The committee voted 13-1 that recommendations from the High School League’s return-to-play task force be given the force of “actual requirements,” with penalties in place for violations of those guidelines.
The decision came at the urging of Quigley, who told the committee that sports teams at SCHSL schools are performing workouts that don’t conform to the “phase one” recommendations of return-to-play.
Those guidelines include social distancing, limited groups of athletes, use of facemasks and sanitation.
“I can promise you, and I know for a fact, that when you say these are recommendations, there are people going beyond or not even doing any of the guidelines,” Quigley told the committee. “We had coaches watching, and it was no mask, no social distancing, things like that.
“The words ‘requirement’ and ‘recommendation’ I think are different,” he said. “And when you hear recommendation, it’s not treated the same across the state ... This is life and death, that’s what this is, bottom line.”
The executive committee also voted that violations of the COVID-19 guidelines should be treated as illegal practices under current SCHSL rules.
Those rules carry penalties ranging from fines and loss of practices and scrimmages to a ban from postseason play for repeated violations.
High school sports in South Carolina, including practices and workouts, were shut down in March due to the pandemic, with spring sports championships canceled.
In late May, the SCHSL issued its guidelines for a return to sports workouts and summer conditioning, leaving the start date for such activities up to individual school districts. Districts in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties all began voluntary workouts for athletes earlier this month.
The SCHSL guidelines called for a three-phase return, with phase one in place “until further notice.”
Sports are divided into risk categories, with “high infection risk activities” including football, wrestling, cheer and lacrosse. “Moderate risk” includes volleyball, soccer, baseball, softball and baskeball, with “low risk” including cross-country, track, swim, golf and tennis.
The SCHSL remains in phase one of the return to play. Singleton said Thursday that the league is considering how to move on to what he called “phase 1.5”, which would include the sharing of equipment (including footballs) among different groups of athletes.
In other business, Singleton said the High School League has not made a decision about appealing a judge’s decision in favor of private and charter schools in a lawsuit against the SCHSL.
A judge last week granted those schools, including Bishop England and Oceanside Collegiate, a temporary injunction against new rules regarding freshman eligibility and transfers.
“We’ve received an update from our legal counsel on that, but no decision has been made,” Singleton said.