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Recommendations released to help high school, youth sports, activities return

A four-phase approach to bring high school and youth sports back has been created by a clinical team of experts from BJC HealthCare/Washington University Physicians, Mercy and SSM Health/SLU Care. Each phase builds up the number of interactions players may have with each other.

However, the opportunity to begin Phase 1 on Monday, June 15 depends on the continued stabilization or downward trend of COVID-19 cases in the region and no current outbreak of cases within the school or organization.

Generally, the experts recommend everyone continues to frequently wash their hands, keep a safe social distance, disinfect high-touch areas and avoid touching their faces.

Specifically, the recommendations for resuming athletics include:

  • Athletes, coaches, referees/umpires should undergo health screenings prior to starting any activity.
  • Games and practices should be scheduled to avoid overlap.
  • The use of locker rooms should be avoided. If they are used, proper social distancing should be practiced.
  • No spectators should attend any workout or practice.
  • Water bottles should not be shared and each bottle should be clearly marked with the player’s name.
  • Team huddles should be eliminated.
  • No handshakes or fist bumps should take place.
  • Coaches and officials should wear masks.

Katie Smith, outreach manager for SSM Health Sports Medicine, connects athletes with injury prevention information and specialty services offered by SSM Health Sports Medicine.

The main takeaway from the guidelines, Smith said, is “really helping people know what the new normal is going to be.” She said athletes and sports officials are encouraged to follow the recommendations “in a slow and controlled way.”

“There’s going to be some changes and that needs to be understood,” Smith said. “This is an ever-changing situation. The more flexible and opened-minded people can be, the more they can see the positive things coming out of it.”

Recommendations were released to high-frequency and low-frequency contact sports.

High-frequency of contact sports include baseball, basketball, boxing, cheerleading, crew/rowing, dance team, fencing, floor hockey, field hockey, tackle/flag/touch football, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, racquetball, rugby, soccer, softball, team handball, ultimate frisbee, volleyball, water polo and wrestling.

Low-frequency of contact sports include diving, extreme sports, gymnastics, rodeo, water skiing, adventure racing, bicycling, canoeing/kayaking, field events [high jump, pole vault, javelin, shot-put], golf, handball, horseback riding, skating [ice, in-line, roller], skateboarding, windsurfing, weightlifting, badminton, bodybuilding, bowling, orienteering, fishing, riflery, rope jumping, running, sailing, scuba diving, swimming, table tennis, tennis and track.

Starting June 15, athletes in both categories are allowed to begin workouts on campus or at the organization’s facility. However, no more than 10 individuals, including coaches, are recommended in a space. According to the recommendations, the allotted space should be separated by a barrier or large enough that individuals can maximize social distancing. No players or coaches should be within 6 feet of each other. There should be no interaction between groups of 10 during this phase. All machines or equipment should be wiped down with disinfectant after each use. Gathering limitations and cleaning should be enforced by school administration, not the athletic trainer.

Additionally, athletes should not interact with anyone outside the area where their individual workout is located.

Mark Halstead, of St. Louis Children’s Hospital, said the guidelines could have been even more comprehensive.

“We didn’t want to make it overwhelming. We want to reintegrate kids back into sports,” Halstead said. “We’re all looking for guidance. This is new territory for all of us. We’re all just looking for experts to weigh in and minimize the risks to the kids, coaches and spectators.

“We want to reintroduce sports … [and] … we don’t want to stop if possible.”

Halstead worked with Lafayette High for 11 years and now helps Francis Howell High, Fort Zumwalt North High and St. Charles West High.

Dr. Brian Mahaffey is the director of Mercy Sports Medicine and team physician of the St. Louis Cardinals. He also helps the Rockwood and Parkway school districts as well as CBC, De Smet Jesuit and Westminster Christian Academy.

“Ultimately, and it always is with us, it’s about providing the best environment for safety in sports,” Mahaffey said. “We have 23 high schools that we work with directly, that we have an athletic trainer at full time. With our policy and procedures, we’re doing everything for the safety of those athletes. We have relations with club teams in town as well.

“With COVID-19, we wanted to make sure everything is consistent. The recommendations are easily applied, and I think we’ll get the best results in that situation. We’re proud of the document. [It took] a lot of work and a lot of input from people who care about the health and safety of the youth in the St. Louis region.”

Area athletic directors are happy to have the guidelines.

“It seems to balance well the need for safety and caution along with thoughtfulness on returning to sports,” Cory Snyder, the athletic director at Westminster Christian Academy, said of the document. “I am thankful for the work BJC, SSM and Mercy put into collaborating on these guidelines.”

Sean Erwin, Francis Howell’s athletic director, said the recommendations may help speed the return of high school sports this fall.

“I think that everyone involved is hopeful and looking forward to a return to fall activities and sports,” Erwin said. “I think in order for that to happen all involved will have to take some new measures and precautions to ensure a safe return. It will be interesting to see what those additional measures and precautions look like as we move through the summer and get closer to the fall sports season.”

Still, the question lingers: Will there be sports this fall for high schools and club teams?

“That’s the million-dollar question and to be honest, it probably doesn’t matter much what I think,” Snyder said. “We are preparing with an expectation that our athletes will be on the fields and courts this fall competing. That preparation is something that we can control and we try not to expend too much energy thinking or worrying about the things that we cannot control.”

Smith is optimistic sports will return

“If we continue to trend the way we’re trending, I think we’ll have a fall sports season,” Smith said. “However, there will be a lot of caveats to the fall sports season but people will understand. I think it’s realistic to have sports back. It’s a long way away but we have to keep this all in mind.”

If there are sports, will there be fans? Smith is taking a wait and see approach.

“The reality is, with youth athletes, the virus is not so much of a concern, to be honest, but [it can be] with their loved ones,” Smith said. “Having a large number of spectators is more concerning than the sport itself. We’ll have to see a decrease in cases to have fans in the fall.”

To understand what comes next, Smith encouraged coaches, parents, athletes and fans to “read the entire document we have created.”

A complete list of the recommendations can be found on each health system’s website:

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