The day before some students planned a demonstration intended to persuade the Anchorage School District to allow them to return to practice, district officials announced Thursday that fall sports teams can begin practice Monday with limits in place.
Practices will be for conditioning only, meaning no tackling drills for football teams, and they must be held outdoors. Participants must stay 10 feet away from each other, will have their temperature checked at the start of each practice and must wear masks when not engaged in vigorous activity.
Fall sports practices were canceled in July when the school district reached high-risk status due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Anchorage. At the time, it said it would revisit the issue on Aug. 20, but Thursday’s announcement beat that deadline by a week.
Kersten Johnson, the ASD senior director of secondary schools, said the school district is “cautiously optimistic” that competition can begin the first week of September. The first competition would be volleyball matches on Thursday, Sept. 4, with a variety of others sports starting on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 5-6.
“Labor Day weekend will be a big one as long as we get a lot of help from our community,” she said.
That’s good news for hundreds of Anchorage teenagers.
“I’m super excited,” said Hannah Lentfer, a senior on the Service High volleyball team. “I’ve kind of worked my entire career for my senior season and the chance to be a team leader. The possibility of that being taken away was devastating. This is fantastic.”
Lentfer said Service volleyball players had planned to meet Thursday night to make signs and paint their cars for a Friday demonstration at the ASD building, where they intended to rally in favor of the resumption of high school sports. Other schools planned to participate too, she said, but those plans have been called off.
In an email sent to schools and families of high school students, the ASD said it “has received an outpouring of correspondence from parents and students advocating for a high school fall sports season.“
“Whether we are able to move into regular practices with shared equipment and full contact, and whether we are able to host competitions this fall, will largely depend on the COVID-19 health status in the municipality in the coming weeks,” the district wrote.
The announcement affects fall sports, which include football, flag football, cross country, swimming, tennis, riflery, volleyball and cheerleading.
“I would like to take this path forward and see where it leads,” said Kathleen Navarre, the athletic director and flag football coach at Dimond High.
Whether it leads to actual competition remains to be seen. The ASD will not conduct in-person classes when school begins Aug. 20, and the city of Anchorage is operating under an emergency order that limits gatherings and is in place until Aug. 30. What the city decides when the order expires may impact whether games can happen.
Even if teams can’t compete, Navarre thinks being able to practice is valuable and important.
“Kids will be able to interact with their peers and have a positive place to be,” she said.
Johnson said the ASD is hopeful that by the end of the month, the number of COVID-19 cases and the percentage of positive test results will allow Anchorage to meet the medium-risk level set by the Alaska School Activities Association. That will open the door for competition during the first week of September, about three weeks after the original start date for 2020-21 sports seasons.
ASAA requires teams and athletes to put in 10 days of practice before they are eligible to play games, and Johnson said the district received approval from ASAA to count the conditioning practices as real practices.
The exception will be football. Teams won’t be able to make contact until Anchorage’s emergency order is lifted, and Johnson said it’s important players have several full-contact practices before suiting up for a real game. She said it’s likely football teams will require a week of full-contact practice before they can play games.
Teams are already practicing in Fairbanks, the Valley and the Kenai Peninsula, so Alaska’s football season will start before the Anchorage teams are ready to go.
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