With just over two weeks until the Kansas High School Activities Association will allow schools to begin summer activities, several area schools have laid the groundwork to get their athletes back on the field.

Despite Gov. Laura Kelly announcing the state is not yet ready to enter Phase 2 of her reopening plan in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, KSHSAA holds that its amended summer guidelines still are viable. The guidelines state that schools can begin summer activities June 1, so long as local authorities approve of them.

Kelly’s orders prohibit mass gatherings of more than 10 people. The state could enter Phase 2 on June 1 at the earliest, which would allow gatherings of up to 30 people.

With the June 1 date still on the table, here’s how area schools are proceeding with their plans for summer activities.

The path forward

There isn’t a consensus date for area schools to restart their athletics programs. Instead, the region likely will see a scattered return to activity barring any setbacks.

Both Rock Creek and Wamego are eyeing June 1 as a potential start date. Rock Creek is in the process of developing a plan to submit to the Pottawatomie County Health Department. Wamego already has submitted its plan to Pottawatomie County health officials for review.

Other schools are waiting for the state to enter Phase 2 before committing to a plan.

Both Blue Valley-Randolph and Valley Heights are holding off on setting opening dates for summer activities until Kelly eases restrictions. Frankfort, which originally eyed June 1, now is waiting until June 8 to start summer activities, barring another setback.

Wabaunsee and Riley County are using more conservative plans and have identified June 29 as a hopeful start date. Manhattan won’t start summer activities until July 1, at the earliest.

Opening concerns

Local athletics directors are acutely aware that just because they can start summer activities doesn’t mean their programs are out of the woods yet.

“I think there’s always a concern because of the unknown,” Valley Heights athletics director Tony Trimble said. “If we get people back together, will the numbers increase? It’s important everybody does their best to follow the guidelines.”

Many of the schools’ plans to return revolve around still adhering to social distancing practices during all activities.

Under KSHSAA’s guidelines, all football programs must begin summer activities with a three-week period dedicated to conditioning. The requirement has forced schools to consider how to carry out the task, whether in a weight room or outside of it.

“At the beginning of our program, we’re not going to allow indoor activities. Everything will be outdoor,” Wamego athletics director Dennis Charbonneau said. “We’ll do our weights, but it won’t really be weights, more body weight, but that’ll be done at the football stadium so we can use the whole field and separate athletes as much as we can.”

Other schools, like Frankfort, still will utilize their weight rooms. However, Frankfort athletics director Vicki Adams said there will be an emphasis placed on sanitizing the weight room and maintaining social distancing during use.

Despite the efforts, multiple athletics directors noted summer activities would be useless if they caused further spread of the virus and thus impacted the return to school and sanctioned athletics in the fall.

“The ultimate goal, after all the hours of meetings, is to start as normal as possible in the fall and for us not to lose more than what we’ve already lost,” Riley County athletics director Erik Willimon said. “Everyone wants to go 100 mph with getting started, but there’s the unpredictability of the entire situation. It’s a day-by-day, week-by-week basis and at any point in time, we know this plan could go up in flames if a phase is extended or something on those lines.”

The question of fairness

When KSHSAA announced schools would be allowed to go at their county’s pace when starting summer activities, multiple athletics directors voiced concerns with the fairness of the practice.

With each school’s football program needing to complete the three-week conditioning period before starting football-related activities, there is obvious incentive for schools to start as early as they can. Schools starting summer activities June 1 will get six weeks worth of football-related activities before they can begin holding team camps Aug. 3 in preparation for the regular season. Schools starting in late June or early July only would have about two weeks worth of football-specific activities.

Local athletics directors were split when it came to the perceived advantages schools could gain with extra time, with four believing schools starting later could be at a disadvantage and three saying the effects would be marginal at most.

On one side, there was concern that schools facing each other in the fall could come into their games with uneven amounts of preparation. This very well could be the situation when Mid-East League play begins, as Rock Creek would have nearly a month head start over league rivals Riley County and Wabaunsee.

“It creates issues in the district,” Willimon said. “You have one county away that will be on your schedule that doesn’t have the limitations because of lack of cases. Then you look across the state and see we’re relatively lucky compared to the southwestern counties. ... Does that create a competitive advantage for them or disadvantage for us? That remains to be seen.”

Athletics directors who aren’t concerned with the difference point to how little time actually separates those who can prepare early and those who must wait when it comes to the full timeframe of a season.

“It is a concern that you can understand. I don’t think it’s that big a deal,” Wabaunsee athletics director Jeron Weisshaar said. “We’re only talking about a few weeks. If we were talking about younger kids, where they maybe don’t have as much on the foundational level for their sports, it would be a bigger concern, but I don’t think it’s that big of an issue.”