Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday during his daily covid-19 news conference that Arkansas high schools can resume athletic activities, beginning June 1.
While limited-contact sports such as baseball, softball, golf, track and field, cross country, tennis and bowling are permitted to have competition events, contact sports such as football, basketball, wrestling, volleyball and soccer are prohibited from holding practices and competition, but can work out in small groups.
The guidelines from the Arkansas Department of Health, in conjunction with the governor, are effective June 1. That date comes two days after the scheduled May 30 end date of the Arkansas Activities Association's athletic dead period, which has been in place since March 15 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
General requirements from the Department of Health include:
• Maintaining physical distancing of 6 feet between participants at all times, except when actively participating in the sports activity.
• Temperature checks for coaches and staff.
• Athletes, coaches and staff will be asked about fever, symptoms and exposure to people with covid-19.
• Face coverings, or masks, that completely cover the nose and mouth will be required for everyone 10 years of age or older. Athletes must wear a face covering when not actively participating in the sports activity, and coaches must wear a face covering at all times.
• Use of showers, saunas, communal spas or other similar areas will be prohibited.
• Frequent sanitizing of equipment and facilities.
• Avoiding huddles, high-fives and any other non-sport related contact.
Hutchinson said the guidelines for contact sports will be revisited June 30.
With the dead period in effect, coaches and players have been prohibited from in-person contact and working at school facilities, and have instead done virtual workouts via Zoom and Google Classroom.
Little Rock Hall football Coach Jim Withrow said he is looking forward to meeting with his team for the first time since being hired in February, but he said he's also exercising caution.
"I'm a little nervous," Withrow told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "I think we're in uncharted waters. I don't know what we'll be getting into.
"I've got to think that the governor got a lot of good advice. I've got confidence in him."
Joe T. Robinson football Coach Todd Eskola said Thursday's news was welcomed among the Senators' coaches and players.
"I'm elated," Eskola said. "Our kids are getting restless and so are our coaches. We'll take baby steps here."
Eskola said Robinson has been working for several weeks to have a plan in place when players were allowed to return to school facilities.
"We're blessed with great facilities and a great community," Eskola said. "We'll spread it out over the indoor facility, the weight room and the stadium."
Robinson has ordered masks and thermometers for coaches and players. Eskola said players will be required to take their masks home and wash them.
He also said coaches have health responsibilities.
"Do we want to wear masks all the time? Absolutely not," Eskola said. "But every one of our coaches is going to wear a mask."
Robinson players will be doing speed and conditioning drills, as well as weight training, Eskola said. He also said the players will be in groups of nine or less and will have different workout times.
The Senators are the defending Class 4A state champions, which is a point of emphasis Eskola has preached to his players, even during a global pandemic.
"In our situation, we've got a championship to defend," Eskola said. "We want them re-quarantined come June 1. After they're done working out here, then we need them to go home and be with their families.
"We need everyone to be all in. If they're not all in, then they won't be a part of this program."
Russellville football Coach Jeff Weaver said the Cyclones plan on having morning and afternoon groups for workouts in June. He and his staff will have a meeting Tuesday to discuss their plans further.
Weaver said he's pleased to have an opportunity to see his players again.
"We've done a million Zoom meetings, but it's not the same," Weaver said. "My hope is that we all follow the guidelines so we can progress and have a more normal situation."
Similar to Robinson, Russellville and the Little Rock School District -- in which Hall is a part along with three other high schools (Central, Parkview and Southwest) -- have ordered masks and thermometers.
Withrow said he believes that leading up to the June 1 start date that coaches across the state will meet to get the best possible plan for their programs and how to work under the state's guidelines.
"We want to make sure we're all safe," Withrow said. "We don't want to shut back down."
Football teams are scheduled to hold their first fall practices Aug. 3, and the season is scheduled to begin the week of Aug. 24-28. Eskola said he is hoping that the season starts on time, but is also prepared if it is delayed.
"If we want to put on the pads in the fall, we have to do this," Eskola said. "We will comply with the guidelines. We are going to do everything we can to protect our players."
Weaver said he is confident that the football season won't be delayed.
"My hope is that people make sound decisions," Weaver said. "We've been hopeful that these kids get the opportunity to compete."
Sports on 05/22/2020
Print Headline: State coaches react as resumption nears