Amid all the clamor over COVID-19 and the prospect of sending our kids back to school in roughly two weeks, we find ourselves with an uncertain path for Utah High School sports.
Utah County is currently in a Yellow status as far as the State Health Department’s COVID-19 safety designation, which means that life can, for the most part, proceed as normal. We have been encouraged to conduct ourselves with proper safety efforts like wearing a mask when in public, washing hands frequently, social distancing, and self-quarantining when testing positive or exhibiting symptoms. We are also prohibited from having social gatherings of more than 100 people.
With High School sports, the Yellow designation means something a little different. On July 9, the Utah High School Athletics Association voted to allow and proceed with High School Fall sports so long as each school complies with each respective County’s COVID-19 safety designation requirements.
A Yellow designation means that each High School can hold football games, for example, but they are limited to a total of 6,000 participants and spectators for outdoor activities, and 3,000 for indoor activities, and ensure that proper safety practices are followed (i.e., face masks, social distancing, etc.). Additionally, a local health department can issue additional requirements and monitor compliance. For example, the Utah County Health Department could require each school to screen spectators when entering the arena and prohibit anyone who shows any signs of infection. Players are already required to be screened prior to participating.
I attended the Utah High School Athletic Association Board of Trustee’s meeting on July 28 where the Board voted to follow the State Health Department’s Covid-19 color coded safety guidelines, but they didn’t provide any additional direction to local school districts or schools on how to proceed. Apart from a ten-minute conversation about allowing each school district to work with their local health departments to determine appropriate safety guidelines, UHSAA stopped at giving any direction or guidance.
We are now waiting for the Alpine School Board to provide the direction needed to appropriately conduct fall High School sports. Conversations I have had with several Board members have left me feeling uncertain if the Board will take any further direction. We currently seem to be dealing with a vacuum of leadership in most levels of High School sports governance.
UHSAA punted the decision-making process to either the Governor or the local school boards and health departments to provide clear direction. It appears that the local school board is punting the responsibility to the local health department to come up with the guidelines. And it now appears that the local health department is looking to the State Health Department to provide direction. And the State Health Department is looking to the Governor to provide direction. And the Governor is looking to “the experts” like Dr. Dunn to provide guidance for High School sports. In short, we have an exasperating game of hot potato with no end in sight.
This lack of leadership is already affecting Lehi High School football. The team has postponed their annual football fundraiser due to uncertainty from the local School Board regarding proper safety protocols that should be followed. The team and parents are left not knowing when, or if, they will be able to proceed.
Other questions persist. For instance, if a team from a Yellow County area visits an Orange County area, what are the procedures allowed for participation and attendance? If a team visits a city that has a higher safety designation than their county’s, can the visiting team spectators attend? Will games be presented on live streams so fans can view games remotely? What protocols should be followed when a team from an Orange designated County visits a Yellow County team? Should they follow a stricter safety screening?
I, for one, am not comfortable with a bureaucrat from the State Department of Health making such decisions for our High School sports. It is time that our local School Board, working with our local health department, establish clear guidelines to direct our schools and teams so they can ensure that our kids can play, safely. Stop punting and run the ball!
Utah State Senate