Here’s the rulebook for high school athletes and coaches when summer sports are allowed to begin Monday throughout the Anchorage School District:
Stay outside — locker rooms and gyms are closed until at least July 8.
Keep your distance — 6 feet when not exercising; 10 feet maintained when exercising.
Embrace your podmates — you’ll be spending a lot of time together.
Pods are among the new normals kids can expect when they return to school-sanctioned activities for the first time since schools shut down in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students are separated into groups of 5 to 10 people in an effort to limit exposure to the entire group, and once assigned to a pod, you stay in it for the rest of the week, maybe longer.
According to a mitigation plan released by the school district last week, pods are required during times the district deems “medium risk” — the current status.
Low risk means no pods and a moderate relaxation of a handful of other protocols. High risk means no activities at all.
When the South Wolverines return to the football field Monday for voluntary two-a-day conditioning sessions, the coaches of Alaska’s Division I defending state champions will be wearing masks, head coach Walt Harmon said.
Not only does the mitigation plan “strongly encourage” masks on coaches, wearing them sets the right example, Harmon said.
“I get it, right?” he said. “Everyone’s feeling their way through this fog of the pandemic, and everybody wants to exercise good judgment.
“… We’re going to be vigilant. Everybody’s probably going to error on the side of caution.”
Harmon said the critical message he wants players to hear is their compliance to things like social distancing and heightened hygiene could make the difference between having a season this year and not having one.
“Our starting point is making sure kids understand why we’re doing this,” he said. “If they really want to have a season and they don’t want to put the school district and ASAA in a position to make a challenging decision, we have to do our part.”
ASAA is the Alaska School Activities Association, the governing body of Alaska high school sports and other activities. Its mitigation plan for summer contact between coaches and students largely mirrors the ASD’s.
Come Monday, most if not all Anchorage high school football teams will begin conditioning drills on high school fields. Flag football teams typically don’t gather until the official start of practice in August.
For now, Harmon said, it’s all about getting fit.
“We’ll use the entirely of the football field to warm up, and then we’ll break into pods,” he said.
Harmon said he’ll put pods together based on fitness and strength levels rather than grouping players by position. South High’s pods will remain the same through the entire month, he said.
Besides pods, players must also become accustomed to pre-workout screenings — a temperature check (100.3 degrees or higher sends you home) and five questions about symptoms and exposure to those with the virus.
Harmon said he sent surveys to parents to ask if they were comfortable with their children beginning football. “Eighty percent supported having practices and camps and things,” he said.
In a letter sent to families last week, the ASD said parents must sign a form that is “an acknowledgement of the risks and a waiver of liability (and asks) that each participant not hold ASD liable for any harm that may result if a student athlete or participant contracts COVID-19.”
“It is important to carefully review this form before you sign,” the letter said, “as you will be giving up important legal rights.”
Harmon says he is an eternal optimist, and as such “I was always positive we would have a season,” he said. “With ASD and ASAA saying we are going to have a season, it kinda solidified it for us.”
Dimond cross-country coach Nate Normandin, by contrast, says he is a pessimist.
“I hope that there’s sports, but I’m going to play the pessimist and try to keep kids active on their own,” he said.
Normandin said he doesn’t conduct summer workouts for Dimond runners but encourages team captains to do so if they wish. This year, he is also encouraging them to keep track of who attends in case anyone catches the virus.
“To be honest, summer is a time to play, and if they don’t do that they get burned out,” he said. "So I tell them, ‘Go hiking, go play.’ ''
Teachers haven’t been told what to expect when the 2020-21 school year begins, but Normandin thinks there may be modifications to the usual structure, “and because of that I’m not sure what they’re going to do with sports.”
If modifications include online classes instead of face-to-face instruction, “I don’t think there will be activities,” he said.
Meanwhile, Harmon the optimist remains hopeful, especially knowing the players who ended last season as state champions can begin conditioning for a new season Monday.
“We’re excited to have a chance to come out and defend our title,” he said. “Worst-case scenario is we’re still state champs for another year.”
[Because of a high volume of comments requiring moderation, we are temporarily disabling comments on many of our articles so editors can focus on the coronavirus crisis and other coverage. We invite you to write a letter to the editor or reach out directly if you’d like to communicate with us about a particular article. Thanks.]