Fall sports are underway in the S.C. High School League, with competitions already taking place in swimming, girls golf and girls tennis.
And SCHSL commissioner Jerome Singleton said Wednesday that he is "very encouraged" about the rest of the fall season getting started during the coronavirus pandemic, including varsity football games on Sept. 25.
"The majority of our schools feel that things are going well," Singleton said. "I'm very encouraged that we will be able to get our fall sports in, or at least get them started."
But Singleton stressed that if spectators and schools want fans in the stands at football games, they must take seriously the SCHSL guidelines for attendance capacity, social distancing and face coverings at stadiums throughout the state.
The SCHSL last week received approval from the state Dept. of Commerce for an exception to Gov. Henry McMaster's restrictions of 50 percent capacity or 250 spectators (whichever is less) for large gatherings.
But the High School League has refrained from recommending a specific number for capacity, leaving it up to individual schools or districts to determine how many spectators to allow while adhering to social distancing requirements.
"Please take ownership of this," Singleton said. "Right now, we have the ability to extend beyond what the governor's order is. Let's not put ourselves in a position where that could be revoked and we are not able to continue to do this.
"We really need to take ownership and work hard to make sure we monitor and implement the guidelines, and hold a high standard to it.
The SCHSL attendance plan was released last week.
“Schools should determine what capacity their venue can accommodate so that people remain 6 feet apart at all times,” the plan says. Also, “when determining capacity, consideration must be given to seating occupied by bands, cheerleaders, teams in waiting, or any other group that will have seating blocked off for their use during the event.”
School districts in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties have agreed to the plan, as have Bishop England High School and Oceanside Collegiate Academy.
The plan also requires all spectators and staff to wear a face covering at all times.
Singleton said local law enforcement would have the authority to shut down a game if the governor's guidelines on social distancing and face coverings are not being followed.
"I would hope the school district would address it first," he said.
As football teams begin practice on Sept. 8 and scrimmages on Sept. 12, Singleton said the SCHSL will monitor developments as it determines whether the football season can start on Sept. 25. The league's plan is for a seven-game regular season followed by a reduced playoff format, with state championship games on Dec. 4-5.
"We've been gathering for a while in workouts and practices," he said. "But we haven't yet crossed over to different communities. We recognize that as we start moving to where we are gathering across different communities, the possibility (of virus spread) is still there."
In other fall sports, cross country and volleyball have their first meets and games on Sept. 7. Competitive cheer will start practice on Sept. 8 and first competitions will begin Oct. 13.
Singleton said a "large majority" of High School League members have indicated that they intend to play fall sports. No school will be penalized for not playing, he said.
The Jasper County School District, which includes Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School, announced last week that it is suspending extracurricular activities, including sports, for its schools.
"In Jasper County, after careful consideration by the Administration and the School Board, we have decided to start the year virtually, and not in-person," the school district said. "Having given the matter careful consideration, it has been our decision not to allow our students to participate in fall extracurricular activities, including athletic competition and events."
"The reason for this decision, of course, is the safety and health of the students and staff. In our view, if circumstances concerning COVID-19 pose a health and safety risk preventing in-person in-school instruction, those circumstances also should prevent conducting extracurricular and athletic activities. Such activities and events bring children physically closer together than they would be even in school."