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SCHSL to enforce guidelines, add extra week to summer workouts

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Football and other fall prep sports remain in jeopardy amidst the current health crisis.

SCHSL to enforce guidelines, add extra week to summer workouts

{child_byline}By Frank Mansfield

fmansfield@moultrienews.com{/child_byline}

Recommendations issued by the S.C. High School League last month concerning a return to play are now required with accompanying penalties for infractions.

The league voted on Thursday to make its guidelines for resuming summer activities required rather than recommended. Schools may be more restrictive but not less. Violators of the new rules would incur penalties in line with illegal practices already outlined in the league’s rulebook.

“There’s no way we can be everywhere,” SCHSL commissioner Jerome Singleton said. “We really expect our schools to police themselves and police each other.”

The spring sports season was cut short and the summer season was put on hold in April amidst the current health crisis. The league issued guidelines for a return to play in late May that outlined specific safety measures into a three-phase approach. Individual school districts were given the autonomy to determine when the first phase could begin in their area.

The recommendations were organized by a task force that includes league staff, state superintendents, athletics directors and coaches, and the SCHSL Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. The information was reviewed by the S.C. Department of Education’s AccelerateED task force, DHEC, and discussed with a representative from the S.C. Governor’s office.

An original motion to make the guidelines required rules, and to have any changes voted on by the league’s executive committee, failed by a vote of 8 to 6. The league then approved a similar motion, 13 to 1, that removed the committee’s vote, granting Singleton final approval.

“What they’ve basically done is given me the authority to make the change or not,” Singleton said. “I have the authority to say ‘Yes, we will go forward with that’ or to question or modify or reject it.”

Singleton said that he has discussed with DHEC the possibility of an incremental move forward in its three-phased approach toward returning to play. The current first phase restricts any kind of direct interaction and the sharing of balls and equipment.

The league has discussed the possibility of moving into what it’s calling Phase 1.5, a step that blends the guidelines between the first and second phases and would allow equipment like helmets to be used and balls to be shared within groups of less than 10.

The second phase includes modified competition within a team. The third phase is a modified return to normal, which includes competition between schools.

“We’re just in the thinking phase of what we want to present to the task group,” Singleton said. “We’re trying to explore more opportunities to share balls within the group. DHEC thinks it’s possibly feasible.”

Singleton said the league has no definite target date to move forward and no deadline in mind to proceed or cancel the fall season, calling it a “moving target.” He also said that waivers for student-athletes to participate are not actively being considered by the league, though many individual school districts have already required them. The S.C. Independent School Association moved into the second stage of its three-phase return last week. Several school districts statewide, from the Lowcountry to the Upstate, have either stopped or delayed their summer conditioning due to the recent spike in positive COVID-19 tests.

“What occurs away from these workouts is probably more important than what occurs in these workouts,” Singleton said. He added that he was “very concerned” that fall sports might be in jeopardy, explaining that “if changes don’t come into place, it’s going to be very hard to put any of our fall sports seasons together.”

The league also unanimously voted to allow schools to conduct sport-specific training — provided it’s in line with the current phase of return — the week of July 27-30, dates that were previously closed for the league’s annual coaches clinic. The clinic has been canceled this year.

The move is in effort to provide schools an added week of offseason preparation. Singleton said the league is considering more changes to its traditional schedule depending on how the rest of the offseason is affected. He mentioned ideas like shortening the regular season or trimming the number of rounds in the playoffs.

“How many games are we willing to sacrifice to still get it in? That’s the question,” Singleton said. The league has sent surveys to member schools to gauge which options are most favorable.

Singleton said flipping the spring and fall seasons has been considered, though “not a whole lot” adding that “we threw everything at the wall to see what sticks.”

“It’s not as simple as just making a decision to move it around,” Singleton explained. “What happens if we don’t get an opportunity to play any sports in the fall? What do we do with the spring at that time?”

Singleton briefly discussed the league’s current lawsuit with its charter and private school members. A judge granted a temporary injunction last week against new league transfer rules approved in March that charter and private schools say “intentionally and illegally discriminate” against them. The league can appeal the decision.

“No decision has been made on that as of yet,” Singleton said.

When asked about potential tension between traditional public schools and charter and private schools in the league Singleton said: “From the position that I see it, all of our member schools are entitled to the same privileges and restrictions that each of the others have. So from the position that I see it, I will follow the rules as the membership has dictated it to be. I don’t get involved with emotions. How they feel emotionally about each other, they don’t ask me to play a role in that. I will always deal with what the facts are. And that’s what we will address from. As to why some may be upset or not upset, I’m probably not a good gauge for that because I don’t pay a lot of attention to that.”

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