PIERRE -- High school sports are going to take place this fall in South Dakota.
The South Dakota High School Activities Association made it official during a special meeting of the Board of Directors on Wednesday by approving a 16-page recommendation from the SDHSAA task force for a safe return for fall activities.
The board voted unanimously to adopt the proposal in less than 30 minutes, paving the way for soccer, girls tennis, competitive cheer and dance to begin on Aug. 3, while nine-man and Class 11B football classes and boys golf would begin on Aug. 10. The remaining football classes, cross country and volleyball begin Aug. 13.
"The hard work is starting now," SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos said. "It was hard work to get to this. I was really proud of what the task force did, but also know that now the real work starts."
Among the items briefly discussed before the vote was fan attendance, which Swartos reiterated would be left in the hands of individual districts and schools, while noting the SDHSAA is provided an optional tiered system for fan attendance in the proposal.
Swartos said the task force wanted to leave the decision to individual districts in part because it would be difficult to enact a statewide policy when areas are experiencing different challenges with COVID-19. There are also multiple schools within one county that may have differing COVID case counts, which is why the South Dakota Department of Health and the Department of Education are coming up with district-level reports on Aug. 1.
He also stated that some conferences plan to hold meetings to discuss a plan for a conference-wide attendance policy to reduce confusion or controversy once seasons begin. SDHSAA board vice chairperson and Brookings activities director Randy Soma also stated that discussions at the Class AA level have stated fan policies are currently being left to individual schools.
"I think it's going to come down to communicating with those schools that are coming in," Soma said. "Some schools are going to have to wear a mask when they come in, same with their spectators. We just have to make sure we're communicating those things if we're going to move forward with this."
Some amendments were made to the proposal prior to the meeting, most notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its recommendation to sit a play or coach with a positive COVID-19 case to 10 days from the onset of symptoms, plus one day fever-free without medications. It had originally been 10 days from the onset of symptoms plus three days fever-free without medications. The CDC also added a category for those that were critically ill that would require 20 days from the onset of symptoms and one day fever-free without medications.
With a positive case, a player must fill out a form after the allotted time and a doctor can either clear them, recommend a six-day graduated return progression plan or not clear them. Athletes, coaches, managers, statisticians and cheerleaders will be screened daily and any unexcused positive responses will result in missing practice or games until evaluation from a medical professional.
Situations in which teams impacted by COVID-19 during the season were also clarified. Any games missed due to an outbreak of cases that force a temporary shutdown will be considered no contests. If schools miss games due to a district shutdown without recommendation from the DOH, it would be considered a forfeit.
While most of the decisions regarding attendance and use of masks are being left to schools, the SDHSAA will also begin to create a plan for such situations at state championship events. Swartos says it will depend on the sport, city and venue, but it would not be pertinent to make any decisions right now.
"Each of our events are different," Swartos said. "Basketball or wrestling at the Premier Center is generally full compared to cross country, which is an event that's still full, but in a different way. That's an event that's run on city courses versus privately facilities. We're going to have to take a look at each event differently and also abide by city rules that are already in place."
As work continues on fall sports, the SDHSAA will soon begin preliminary work to draw up a proposal for the winter sports season, while also waiting for guidelines to be released by the National Federation of State High Schools as those decisions draw closer.
"A lot of (decisions) would remain the same, assuming we get through fall sports and we maintain to the winter," Swartos said. "It's all indoor events in the winter, so there's some different considerations to make in that regard. ... I would anticipate that unless something changes drastically, our screening procedures will remain consistent."