Safety precautions in place as Indiana high schools kick off football season

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The football stadium at Westfield High School is shown Wednesday, May 11, 2016 in Westfield, Ind. The school, 25 miles north of Indianapolis, agreed in 2014 to a 10-year, $1.2 million naming rights deal with a health care provider, with the money used to help build a 5,000-seat high school football stadium that opened last year.(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS – High school football season in Indiana kicks off Friday! Many student-athletes are ready to suit up and get out on the field, and their families are ready to watch them play. But the game will look a lot different this season because of the coronavirus.

Some teams have already had to cancel their opening games because too many of their players are in quarantine.

The IHSAA says these games will be considered no contest.

“We want them to get back as soon as they can,” said IHSAA Commissioner Paul Neidig. “They have to complete the health and safety requirements of practice, and once they’re able to do that, then they’re able to start competing in games again.”

IHSAA has been working with schools to create guidelines for them to consider throughout the season. Some examples include the football being cleaned and sanitized throughout the game and eliminating hand shaking pre- and post-game traditions.

However, these are just considerations and the association is leaving it up to school districts to decide the best course of action for them.

“Schools are working with their local health departments in their own practices based on what’s going on in their county or their schools,” explained Neidig. “We’re certainly in full support of those, and that’s where the real decision making has to take place, and that’s gotta be at the local level. Just like going back to school, just like playing, every county in Indiana doesn’t look the same when it comes to COVID.”

It’s also up to the schools to decide fan capacity and how to sell tickets to games.

“I think local health departments are looking at the county positivity rate and some are restricted to 200 to 250 tickets per side, and we certainly understand that,” Neidig said. “But other places where the positivity rate is very low, they can allow more people in the stands and hopefully as this season marches on and our statewide numbers go down, we’re going to be able to get more people in the stands as we move forward this fall.”

The IHSAA explains keeping people safe on the field during this season is of the utmost importance. However, they say a big concern for them is what happens off the field. Commissioners point out it’s important that players and their families keep themselves safe and healthy outside of the game because now, the whole team depends on their actions.

“When it comes to COVID being a good teammate is more important than anything and if somebody has an exposure, the family has an exposure, they’ve gotta be honest with school personnel,” explains Neidig. “I’ve had a couple of cases in the state where individuals knew that they had an exposure and they weren’t completely honest, and that caused the entire team to be shut down.”

He goes on to say, “When that happens, you’re taking other people’s health in your own hands and that’s certainly not a teammate in education-based athletics.”

Neidig says a vast majority of feedback the association has been getting has been positive, with many people excited to be playing again. The IHSAA plans to keep its eye on several situations and do its due diligence when it comes to safety precautions during COVID-19. The association is asking people to be patient.

“We like to resist looking too far ahead and that’s what people tend to want to do,” he said. “They want to know what the state championship is gonna look like in November right now and COVID is not giving us that opportunity. Our lens is really no more than two weeks out, and we look ahead in a two-week window and see if we can make some decisions that would affect us that far out, but again, we know that something could happen today that would cause us to change the path.”

The association says everyone involved will just have to be prepared to adjust and make changes as necessary. The main priority is keeping everyone safe and healthy.  

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