The South Dakota High School Activities Association approved its summer guidance guidelines on Thursday, allowing schools to begin activities on June 1. It will last through July 31, and be one day shorter than normal years.

The guidelines are recommendations based on the National Federation of State High School Associations and Gov. Kristi Noem’s “Back to Normal” plan, as it was consistently stated the SDHSAA doesn’t have oversight or a structure assigned by constitutions. There won’t be penalties for schools that don’t follow the guidelines.

It’s a three-phase plan, with each sport divided into groups based on risk level. The SDHSAA acknowledged the situation can vary based on counties, but developed these guidelines with an eye on fall sports.

“If we’re going to have activities in the fall, we’re going to have to build up to there,” said SDHSAA executive director Dan Swartos, who added he hopes to develop a task force in the coming months in regards to the safety of fall sports.

Schools are encouraged to start in Phase One, and then move to Phase Two if there is a flat/downward trajectory of cases after 14 days. Phase Three would begin after another 14 days of seeing a flat/downward trajectory.

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If a case arises, schools don’t need to suspend activities or move back a phase. They’re being told to assess the situation individually.

“(We) purposely left it a little bit open-ended, just given that after you have those consultations, you’ll have a little bit better handle on how to progress or regress given the specific scenario,” SDHSAA assistant executive director John Krogstrand said. “We couldn’t possibly write for every different unique circumstance that could come up with this.”

The sports are categorized by:

  • Low risk: running events, throwing events, golf, sideline cheer and cross country.

  • Moderate risk: basketball, volleyball, soccer, gymnastics, tennis, pole vault, high jump, long jump and 7 on 7 football.

  • High risk: football, wrestling, competitive cheer and competitive dance.

The SDHSAA followed the NFHS and U.S. Olympic Committee guidelines, which is why basketball is considered moderate risk. It added that schools can consider it high risk, if desired.

“This should be guidance, but schools should be looking at what’s going on in their own communities and make some decisions,” Swartos said. “They’re free to do what they want with these recommendations.”

With the guidelines, athletes are asked to not share water bottles, towels, clothing and equipment. Hydration stations can be used in Phase Three, but need to be washed intermittently and after practices. Social distancing in locker rooms and on the sidelines are also expected. The guidelines do not require the use of facemasks, but they are considered acceptable to wear.

In Phase One, teams are limited to 10 people, including coaches. It moves up to 50 people outdoors in Phase Two, with 50 people indoors or outdoors in the final phase.

The SDHSAA also brought up athletes needing time to get back in shape once June 1 hits after a prolonged break.

Board member Craig Cassens, of Faulkton, asked about football team camps.

“To me, it would depend how it’s structured and how many communities are involved,” Swartos said. “If it’s involving full contact, I’d recommend waiting later into the summer to do that when they’re in Phase 3.”

However, the SDHSAA said it recommends teams evaluating each situation individually.

“We’re trying, the best we can, to limit the spreading of this virus, while the kids are in our care,” Swartos said.

SDHSAA to create subcommittee for football class plan

The discussion revolving around South Dakota’s football classification continued on Thursday.

The SDHSAA passed a motion, 8-0, to create a subcommittee which will make two proposals -- five classes and six classes -- that will be submitted to the SDHSAA by Nov. 1. The committee will be geographically balanced and have no more than one member per district.

“As a staff, if we have this subcommittee set up, we’d feel more comfortable having a deadline of November to come with a recommendation,” Swartos said. “So if they get deadlocked and can’t do anything, it still gives us a little time to figure out what we’re going to do before January.”

The proposals could be new or prior ideas the committee has already seen.

“I was in conversation with several athletic directors that were frustrated that we were continuing to extend it,” Pierre athletic director Brian Moser said.

The issue has been plagued by an inability to build a consensus around how to proceed forward. The SDHSAA Board of Directors had voted earlier this year to send the five-class football plan back to the state’s Football Advisory Committee. But when that committee gathered on May 6, it recommended forming a sub-committee of 15 members to meet later this year to put forward a plan to present to the SDHSAA board by January 2021. The goal is for the changes to be approved by the 2021 football season.

South Dakota has had seven classes of football since 2013. The most recent five-class plan called for the state's nine largest schools (plus Sioux Falls O'Gorman, which has traditionally petitioned up) in the largest class. The next 16 largest schools would be in the new Class 11A, followed by all of the remaining 11-man schools in the new Class 11B. The remaining nine-man schools would be split into Class 9A and Class 9B.

In a survey, nine-man coaches were overwhelmingly opposed to shrinking its divisions from three to two by a 61-3 vote margin.