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MHSAA’s decision to resume workouts comes with questions, restrictions

The Mississippi High School Activities Association voted on Thursday to allow the state’s public high school sports teams to get back to work on June 1.

Sort of.

The ruling came with a number of limits and restrictions on what teams can and can’t do, and will require both school districts and coaches to adjust the way they operate in a world filled with the COVID-19 virus, Vicksburg Warren School District athletic director Preston Nailor said.

“It’s definitely a bunch of questions that have not been answered and cannot be answered right now,” Nailor said. “Everybody’s local guidelines will be a little different, but we’re going to work with the City of Vicksburg to make sure we’re all on the same page. It’s a lot of nuances that we’re not used to. It’s a lot of changes that we’re all going to have to get used to in everyday life.”

Nailor planned to meet with principals at both Warren Central and Vicksburg High Schools on Friday to craft a policy based on the guidelines issued Thursday by the MHSAA, and earlier this week by the National Federation of High Schools.

The MHSAA’s decision on Thursday allowed summer practices to resume on June 1, but prohibits competition against other schools until the 2020-21 school year begins in August.

Travel to summer camps also is not allowed.

Those limits would eliminate summer mainstays such as 7-on-7 football leagues, trips to college camps — some of which have been canceled anyway — basketball tournaments, and baseball and softball games.

“You can do intrasquad games, but not against other schools,” Nailor said. “The main thing with that is putting kids on the bus and having them interact with kids in other communities.”

The MHSAA’s decision is dependent on Gov. Tate Reeves setting a date for reopening Mississippi’s public schools. Teams must also comply with local restrictions regarding the use of various facilities.

Beginning June 1, there will also be a 14-day acclimatization period for athletes to get back in shape. Workouts during that period are limited to conditioning drills and light weightlifting, and all of them must be voluntary.

Nailor said the acclimatization period might force tryouts to be delayed. Most of the fall sports teams in the VWSD scheduled them for June, including some as early as June 1. In its guidelines, the MHSAA recommended delaying them until the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Nailor said a decision on tryout dates would be made during Friday’s meeting with school principals.

“We’re going to devise our own policies, so those might be pushed back,” Nailor said.
Vicksburg High softball coach Brian Ellis said the acclimatization period was something most softball and baseball teams would have had to go through anyway, after not being on the field for nearly three months.

Players, especially pitchers, would have needed time to loosen up their arms before being ready to safely throw in games. Their own acclimatization period might have limited the number of games teams in those sports could have played anyway.

“I’ve had some girls that are working on their own. We’ve just got to go back to basics and get their arms loosened up,” Ellis said. “We’re going to concentrate on getting back to basics and starting from scratch. We’re probably going to go four days a week.”

On a more practical level, coaches are being asked to clean up their sports — literally.
Hand-washing, sanitizing surfaces, and access to cleaning materials will be emphasized at all facilities. All workout clothes must be washed before being reused, and athletes must take them home every day.

Anyone entering a gym, stadium or fieldhouse must be checked for symptoms of COVID-19. The use of athletic trainers is strongly encouraged.

Masks must be worn during large group gatherings and meetings, but are not required during practice.

Coaches are also encouraged to conduct outdoor workouts, and to split teams into smaller groups to limit potential exposure to the virus.

In all, the MHSAA set out more than 40 recommendations for its member schools to follow. MHSAA executive director Don Hinton said in a statement that the association would continue to tweak them as new information becomes available.

“Our highest priority is and always will be the safety, health and welfare of Mississippi’s students, educators and communities,” MHSAA Executive Director Don Hinton said in a statement. “We will continue to assess new information and develop plans for the upcoming 2020-21 fall sports and activities seasons. Weekly updates will be provided to help our member schools as we look forward to the new school year of sports and activities.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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