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School Athletics OK in Scaled-Down Model


School football, cross-country running and girls’ volleyball teams will continue their pre-season practices after approval by the Fairbanks North Star Borough Board of Education this week. The board heard safety recommendations from statewide athletic directors, but not everyone on the board was convinced.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought school athletics to a standstill last spring. And the Alaska School Activities Association, or ASAA, developed some guidelines this summer for how kids might get some of the advantages of team play, without the exposure to coronavirus.

“Your athletic directors, I have a lot of confidence in them that they can run activities with good mitigation, that would give our students a chance to be engaged.”

Billy Strickland Executive Director of Alaska School Activities Association, or ASAA,  says the organization recommends kids convene with their peers in organized activities to protect their mental health.

“And I would much rather see the students in Fairbanks meeting with their peers in highly-structured environments than elsewhere.”

Right now the district is allowing football, cross-country running and girls’ volleyball. Swim season has been shifted to September. Teams will continue with practices, but not necessarily games, and probably no out-of-district travel. How the district proceeds with sports will depend on the low, medium or high risk as measured by the number of COVID-19 cases in the community. Other communities in Alaska have stopped school sports while their case numbers are high.

School board member Erin Morrotti calculated about 500 students across the district who might be involved in football, cross-country running, and volleyball. She asked about student exposing each other by close contact.

“But don’t the students come together to play the game? Don’t they have to have contact, and if so, what is ASAA’s stance on that contact that is required to play the game?”

Luke Meinert, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Instruction outlined the intermediate risk guidelines the district has been following this summer. Football scrimmages started last weekend.

“We had no spectators at those games, out of an abundance of caution, to let those scrimmages happen and see how they worked. When they are coming in together in huddles or outside of the play that they are trying to maintain that 6’ social distancing and have masks on if they are not directly playing.

ASAA’s Billy Strickland says reduced contact protocols in football games were enacted to reduce concussions and have also reduced how close players get to each other.

“The actual time that they are actually in live game is about 8 minutes.”

Several board members asked how coaches will learn about and enforce safety measures for school athletes. Assistant Superintendent Meinert says they have been working.

“No students in Fairbanks activities have come down with COVID. None have tested positive.”

School academics begin next Thursday with students mostly online August 20th. The board voted 6-1 to approve continuing in-person school athletics in a very limited model with the ASAA guidelines. The board may re-visit the issue before winter.