Manhattan Indians take a knee

The Manhattan Indians football team takes a knee after an injury on Sept. 6. High school sports could look drastically different this year as schools grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Kansas Department of Education included multiple recommendations for changes to the high school sports season, including possible limits on where schools should travel during the year, in a guidance plan for schools as they prepare to begin the 2020-21 school year. The plan also classified sports by likelihood of spreading the coronavirus.

The plan, which is titled “Navigating Change” and spans 1,088 pages, was approved by the Kansas Board of Education Wednesday morning. It is meant to provide guidance for schools as they adjust to the coronavirus pandemic during the upcoming school year.

The recommended guidance for sports, along with other extracurricular activities, included in the draft was provided by the Kansas COVID Workgroup for Kids (KCWK). The KCWK is made up of family medicine and pediatric physicians, child psychologists and school nurses.

Schools should defer to the recommendations provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations in a report called “Guidance for opening up high school athletics and activities,” according to the KCWK. The guidance, which was approved in May, asks state athletic organizations to consider several possibilities, from how they would operate if some or all schools are closed to in-person classes to if a state would consider canceling “higher risk” sports while keeping “lower risk” sports active.

The KCWK’s drafted recommendation specifically addresses risk levels for sports, with sports being categorized into low, moderate and high risk levels in terms of exposing others to the virus. Sports falling into the moderate- and high-risk levels are not advised to proceed unless they are modified, according to the guidance.

Sports in the moderate- and high-risk categories include baseball, volleyball, softball, football, tennis, soccer, basketball, wrestling, swimming relays and jumping events in track and field. The KCWK recommends against resuming the high-risk sports (football, basketball and wrestling) unless “significant modifications are made.”

The KCWK also recommends athletic activities focusing on skills training rather than holding competitions for the season. However, if schools decide to hold competitions, the KCWK recommends the events be limited to the geographic region each school resides in to decrease viral spread across the state.

The guidance also includes measures that already are being applied by many schools, such as having coaches and athletes wear masks when not actively participating in a physical event.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association previously has stated it will be keeping a close eye on Wednesday’s board meeting and will use the guidance provided to fine tune its plan for the fall sports season.