Play it safe: SDHSAA mandates modifications for fall sports

The Burke Cougars, left, and the Gregory Gorillas football teams instead of shaking hands wave to each other acknowledging a good game between the two teams during a class 9A game on Friday, Aug. 28 in Burke.

Fall sports are back, but they don’t necessarily look the same.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still looming, the SDHSAA passed a number of rule modifications for the 2020 fall sports season.

The association organized a task force in July, consisting of medical professionals, state office representatives, SDHSAA board of directors, superintendents and athletic directors.

The task force was also aided by the National Federation of State High School Associations with its guidelines for South Dakota.

“The National Federation of State High School Associations came out with some national guidelines including some sports specific adoptions,” SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand said. “So I would say that 95-99 percent of what we are doing is derived from that national document.”


From there, recommendations from SDHSAA staff on those rule modifications fall under three categories: mandatory, optional and impermissible.

  • Mandatory: rule changes that must be followed until further advised

  • Optional: rules allowances that may be utilized if desired until further advised

  • Impermissible: items that are not allowed by SDHSAA rule

Each fall sport has rule modifications established for it and they are on SDHSAA’s website.
“Some things are just kind of common sense all the way across the board to try to mitigate risk as best can and keep our athletes, participants and spectators as safe as possible,” Krogstrand said.

The most noticeable modifications are the elimination of handshakes -- both prior to and after contests. Individual introductions of players/tunnel lines from contests have been eliminated. Starting lineups can be introduced, but not with the run-through action of athletes as names are called. In football and volleyball, players stay at their respective sidelines and wave to their opponents after the contest is over.

In football, game balls are rotated more frequently than previously allowed to ensure cleaning and sanitization of balls between downs. The chain-gain crews shall be located on the home team’s sideline. The crews shall not enter the playing field. If a measurement is needed, officials should deliver chains to the field, not the chain crew.

In volleyball, hand sanitizer shall be available for athletes/coaches to use upon entering and exiting the contest.

Tennis players are required to use numbered sets of tennis balls, with a different number for each competitor/doubles team, and only handle their numbered tennis balls. The tennis balls are to be cleaned with Lysol or Clorox.

No-touch scorecards are a mandatory modification for golf and to follow rules published by the host course and USGA guidelines that are in place for spectators, competitors and coaches. This includes leaving the flagstick and hole-barrier in place if the course is using that system for regular season play.

An optional modification for volleyball is to strongly encourage the use of electronic whistles for officials. In cross-country, the course must be widened to ensure six-feet of width at its most narrow point is a mandatory modification.


In both golf and cross-country, there are no awards ceremonies following contests and no draping of medals on competitors.

Krogstrand said some of the modifications might seem mundane, but also necessary in order to continue playing a fall season and minimize risks of exposure.

“If we let our guard down, ultimately we could end up in a scenario like we had this past winter, where all of a sudden we don’t have a traditional conclusion to the seasons,” Krogstrand said.

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