School district staff continue to plan for fall sports

While schedules and the reality of what fall sports will look like in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has yet to take shape, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is confident that teams in its five major high schools will adhere to safety protocols set forth by the state organization governing school sports.

That’s according to Chris Perk, athletic director for Homer High School. He, other athletic directors, principals and school district administration have been participating in meetings this summer to set plans for the fall sport season. After a meeting early this week, Perk had a few more details to share about what sports programs at Homer High could look like in the coming weeks.

The Alaska Student Activities Association has its own set of safety protocols that all athletes must follow this year— one set for practices and another for events. The organization also breaks down its protocols by specific sport.

Under ASAA protocols, for example, student athletes must maintain 6 feet of distance during practices if their community is at a low risk level in terms of COVID-19 transmission. If that community rises to a high risk situation, all indoor activities are canceled but outdoor practices can continue, with athletes kept 10 feet apart.

In a medium risk scenario, ASAA protocols say practices can remain indoors but must be 10 feet apart.

The risk levels of green for low, yellow for medium and red for high are calculated based on the number of positive cases reported in a community over a two-week period compared to the overall population. In a high alert level, a community has a rate of cases higher than 10 cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days. Medium risk is a rate of five to 10 cases per 100,000, and low risk is a rate of less than five cases per 100,000.

For the southern Kenai Peninsula region, which is Ninilchik south, to be considered high risk, there would need to be 20 or more cases in the last 14 days, the Peninsula Clarion has reported. The southern peninsula is medium risk if there are between 11-19 cases in the last 14 days, and is low risk if there are 10 or fewer cases reported in the last 14 days.

As of Wednesday, the southern peninsula is at the medium risk level.

On top of the safety precautions instituted by ASAA, the KPBSD has its own requirements. Perk said no sport or team under KPBSD can practice or have events unless a mitigation plan is submitted to the district, showing how that team would adhere to the ASAA protocols.

“Every sport team is required to come up with its own mitigation plan for practices, home events and travel,” Perk said.

KPBSD’s mitigation plan includes things like making sure all student athletes submit a COVID sports waiver and release form, and that sport activities should have a designated person on site who is “solely responsible for monitoring and following all social distancing, hygiene, staffing and operations.”

“The biggest thing that I got from our meeting today is that our district is very confident in adhering to the ASAA guidelines,” Perk said Tuesday.

Practice for fall sports teams started this month, but what their game and event schedules will look like is still a bit of a mystery. Perk has been working on the event and game schedules for football and other fall sports, but they have changed several times.

“You wouldn’t want to print them off today,” he said.

Adding to the difficulty of scheduling games is the fact that the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District has said its teams will not play teams from outside its district this season, Perk said. Teams from the valley make up a good portion of the region that Homer High’s teams compete in.

With the school districts in Anchorage and Fairbanks also unwilling to play teams from outside their regions, Perk said peninsula teams could be looking at mainly local competitions this year.

“I feel like we can make that work if that’s what it comes down to,” he said.

Potentially, the five schools on the peninsula could end up playing in a smaller, peninsula-wide championship, Perk said. But that all depends on whether Anchorage schools will decide to participate in a state tournament.

The focus of the most recent meeting of athletic directors and other education staff was practices, Perk said, and they’ll next be focusing on events. At the moment, it looks like the district will move to a digital ticketing platform, he said, in order to better keep track of who is going in and out of sport venues. This will also help reduce crowding or bottlenecking at venue entrances, Perk said.

How to handle spectators and space them out in stadiums is still being worked through, according to Perk. For example, he said a stadium could have certain groups of seats blocked off to keep people from sitting too close together, but families from the same household could sit together without an issue.

“You get to a place where it’s difficult to police spectators,” Perk said.

Another potential concern this season is the number of athletes each sport can expect to have on its roster.

“I think with most things, you’re going to see a dip, you know, looking at our numbers initially,” Perk said.

Lower participation numbers right now could be attributed to students and families waiting things out to see how sports will be handled, though. Moving forward, Perk said he thinks the benefits sports provide in terms of health and physical activity will contribute to participation.

He said having clear mitigation plans will be important, and is hoping the district can learn from sports that have already started back up, like Major League Baseball.

At this point, with participation from other school districts looking minimal, Perk said he’d consider it a success if Homer sports teams were able to have some kind of season, and get to the end of their seasons safely.

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