The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of public education and related sports programs this school year, but the state and school systems like Warren County Schools are getting ready for athletics to resume.

Warren County High School Athletic Director Wanda Thompson, coaches and athletic trainers discussed their preparations during the board of education’s Oct. 13 meeting.

Sports seasons

The North Carolina High School Athletics Association has developed a revised 2020-21 sports seasons calendar in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schedules for sports offered by Warren County Schools are as follows:

• Cross county and volleyball: first practice, Nov. 4; first contest, Nov. 16; final regular season contest, Jan. 8.

Both sports will have a season of 14 meets or games with a limit of two per week.

• Basketball: first practice, Dec. 7; first contest, Jan. 4; final regular season contest, Feb. 19.

The basketball season will feature 14 games with a limit of two games per week.

• Soccer: first practice, Jan. 11; first contest, Jan. 25; final regular season contest, March 12.

The soccer season will include 14 games with a limit of two games per week.

•Football: first practice, Feb. 8; first contest, Feb. 26; final regular season contest, April 9.

The football season will consist of seven games with a limit of one game per week.

• Golf, men’s tennis and softball: first practice, March 1; first contest, March 15; final regular season contest, April 30.

The three sports will have seasons of 14 games or matches each week with a limit of two per week.

• Baseball, women’s tennis and track & field: first practice, April 12; first contest, April 26; final regular season contest, June 11.

The sports will follow a season schedule of 14 games, matches or meets with a limit of two per week.

Thompson indicated that COVID-19 could have an ongoing impact on the number of fans allowed to attend sporting events. She said that, for example, when the volleyball season begins, only 25 spectators would be allowed to attend matches.

Workouts

Warren County High School currently is focusing on keeping student-athletes safe during workouts and conditioning by following policies and procedures outlined by the Phase II NCHSAA Modified Skill Development Guidelines. 

According to WCHS policies, workout sessions are voluntary, meaning that participation is not a prerequisite for making an athletic team and can’t be used to determine playing time during the regular sports season.

Student-athletes who participate in voluntary athletic workouts must have valid pre-participation physical examinations on file. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only students whose most recent physical exams are dated prior to March 1, 2019 will be required to obtain new physicals.

Student-athletes must complete and return the form “NCHSAA Initial Screening Questions for students to Participate in Athletic Activity During COVID-19” with the signature of a parent or legal custodian.

Before each workout, coaching and athletic training staff will conduct a temperature check and pre-performance symptom check for each student.

Warren County High School urges any student-athlete who feels ill or is experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms to stay home and to report the illness to their coach

The WCHS policy requires each sports team to designate a location for parents to drop off their sons and daughters for workouts. Student/athletes will have their temperatures checked and will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before they can enter workouts.

Parents/guardians must not leave until their son(s) or daughter(s) pass the screening process. Student-athletes who do not pass the screening will not be allowed to participate in workouts without a note from their healthcare provider indicating that they do not need to be tested for COVID-19 or that their symptoms are not caused by COVID-19; along with a completed copy of the NCHSAA COVID-19 return to athletics form. 

Parents and guardians should not congregate during workouts and must remain in their cars in order to maintain social distancing.

Those who wish to stay during workouts must follow limits for gatherings: no more than 50 people at outdoor events and no more than 25 at indoor events.

Because locker rooms will be closed during workouts, student-athletes should arrive wearing their workout clothes. Students must bring their own face coverings and water bottles with their names on them. Anyone without face coverings and water bottles will be asked to leave. Athletes must ask their coach or athletic trainer to refill their water bottles. 

All student-athletes, coaches, school staff and athletic trainers must wear masks over their mouths and noses while on school grounds. Student-athletes may remove their masks only if they are participating in cardiovascular conditioning drills and must maintain 10 yards of social distance. 

Regular hand sanitation will be required.

The athletic training room may be used at the discretion of the athletic training. However, use will be limited to one student at a time. The training room and all used equipment must be sanitized before use by anyone else.

Illnesses and exposure to COVID-19

The WCHS policy also addresses what to do if a student-athlete, coach or staff member is exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or becomes ill.

Anyone who learns that he or she has been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 must quarantine at home for 14 days from their last exposure unless they have a negative COVID-19 test result. While under quarantine, they must do the following: check their temperature twice each day, journal any COVID-19 symptoms and avoid people at high risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. 

Student-athletes who become ill must be evaluated by a physician. If the doctor does not believe that the symptoms are caused by COVID-19 or if the student-athlete tests negative for COVID-19, he or she will be required to return an NCHSAA “Return to Play Form — After a Negative COVID-19 Test” completed by the doctor and parent/legal custodian and a clearance note from the physician.  Students who have returned these forms may return to workouts when they are feeling well.

Student-athletes who test positive for COVID-19 should follow their physician’s instructions. They must meet the following criteria before returning to workouts: fever free for 72 hours without the aid of fever reducing medication, respiratory symptoms (such as cough, shortness of breath and runny nose) fully resolved, at least 10 days passed since symptoms appeared, and return of the NCHSAA “Return to Play Form — After a Positive COVID-19 Test” completed by the physician and parent/legal custodian with a clearance note from the physician.