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With athletics getting ready to once again begin for the first time in more than two months across the state, the AHSAA has released a set of “Best Practices” guidelines for return. Those include everything from sanitation guidelines, a set of pre-screening questions and suggestions for maintaining social distancing during athletic activities, which can resume Monday.

However, AHSAA officials made clear during a press conference Wednesday it would be up to individual school districts to enforce these guidelines. Although there will be no consequences from the AHSAA regarding if schools are following these protocols, AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese made clear they should not be taken lightly.

“We provided these best practices based on recommendations from our physicians; we feel like it’s important you follow them,” Savarese said Wednesday. “The consequence will not be a penalty from the association. One of the main consequences if we don’t follow them — we’re not going to eliminate the risk (of contracting COVID-19); we’re trying to mitigate the risk — we’re trying to prevent a student or an adult from developing viruses.”

Savarese also stated following these guidelines will hopefully increase the chance of having a full season that starts on time come August. Many local coaches have echoed those sentiments.

“I think coaches are so excited to get back and we don’t want to screw this up,” Reeltown football coach and athletic director Matt Johnson said earlier this week. “It’s pretty evident that if we have to pause this thing again, it’s not coming back.”

Officials at Wednesday’s press conference also clarified some of the best practices guidelines, including one that requires at least one coach to be present per 12 student-athletes. Although there is an unlimited number of players who can participate in a group together, this 1-to-12 ratio is to help ensure guidelines are being followed.

“We got that number from the Alabama State Department of Education and it’s for supervision purposes,” Savarese said. “When bringing students back, they would like one certified teacher or coach to be with each group of 12. We have no limit on the amount of students who can be involved as long as that grouping continues to practice social distancing. The state department of education recommends an adult supervise 12 kids whereas the guidelines are being followed.”

Another guideline that was reviewed by Dr. James Robinson, the medical director for the AHSAA medical advisory board, was the recommendation of facial coverings when people cannot maintain a 6-foot distance. Robinson clarified in the weight room, this means spotters should use facial coverings, not the athletes actually lifting weights.

“(That is for) only athletes that could possibly have problems with maintaining the physical distancing,” Robinson said. “This would not be when they’re participating in drills or aerobic activity — just when they are standing around or in groups. When they are actually exercising, they won’t wear the masks.”

For many questions, such as what would happen if an athlete tests positive for the coronavirus, how schools can fund acquiring facial coverings, sanitation supplies and more, Savarese referred people to contact their individual principals and superintendents for their specific plans.

As the AHSAA has done thus far, Savarese also did not want to comment on any future plans. People are already wondering how football season will play out and if fans will be allowed at games, but Savarese said he was not prepared to answer those types of questions at this time and AHSAA officials are still working on those potential plans.

“For us to speculate, we don’t have a crystal ball of what the future holds,” Savarese said. “But I know this: If we do what’s expected of us, we have a far greater chance of having fans in the stands. If we go out of our way to teach our students how to follow these guidelines and practices, I think we will have a much better chance of return to normal.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.