AHSAA targets June 8 for return to high school sports

Last June's seven-on-seven camp at Alabama Christian was crucial for St. James in developing new starter Drew Fett at quarterback. High schools can return on June 8 but there will be no spring training and no seven-on-seven camps.

An update provided by the Alabama High School Athletic Association noted that planning committees for summer activities and fall sports have met on three occasions to map out options as the organization awaits directives from the state Department of Education and the Department of Public Health.

The most recent meeting was on Tuesday and Wednesday with the AHSAA medical advisory board, which includes Dr. James Robinson and Dr. Jeff Dugas, along with state superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey and assistant state superintendent Terry Roller. At that meeting, Mackey expressed hope that school campuses will reopen on June 8 and start the 2020-21 school year as planned.

High school football coaches already set the second Monday in June as a possible return for offseason workouts after Mackey’s earlier directives that had closed high school campuses was set to expire on Friday, June 5.

“It’ll be like back in the ‘80s when there wasn’t any seven-on-sevens and the kids actually got away from football and away from year-round training for a couple of months,” St. James coach Jimmy Perry pointed out. “It’s the same for everybody so it’ll be fine. Usually, we give the kids about five weeks off, from the middle of May through the middle of June. Well, they’ve been off for three months so it’s time to get to work.”

The Department of Education will issue revised health and safety guidelines on or before next Friday with group size limitations (currently limited to 10 people per group) and other guidelines for summer activities. Gov. Kay Ivey and the Department of Public Health is expected to issue updated health guidelines next Friday and AHSAA officials will meet with the medical advisory board and provide updated guidelines afterward.

Mandatory summer practices are prohibited but weightlifting, conditioning, individual skill development and workouts will be left to the discretion of the local schools in compliance with Department of Education and Department of Public Health guidelines. Summer competition such as seven-on-seven camps for football and tournaments for basketball are canceled as well, although schools may hold camps for their students and feeder school students.

“We’ll start on June 8 and for two weeks we’ll do conditioning and weight training,” Perry said. “Then, on June 22, we’ll do our offense and defense and kicking installs and we should be back to Square One by the first game.

“We needed spring training and we needed a bunch of seven-on-sevens and we don’t have them. That’s something we’re going to have to work through this summer. If you’ve got a returning senior group, that bodes well for you. If you don’t, if you were hit heavy with graduation like we were, it’s going to be an uphill climb.”

With school campuses shut down since the middle of March, coaches have struggled to stay in contact with their players in an effort to keep the players in proper mental and physical training for upcoming sports in the 2020-21 season.

“I have a team Zoom meeting every two weeks just to check on everybody and then we have individual Zoom position meetings twice a week with our kids to go over installation,” Perry said. “But until you get out there on the field and apply what you’ve learned, you don’t know (what they’ve learned) until you get out there.”

The AHSAA update noted that students should obtain a physical from their primary care provider prior to the first practice date and not rely on mass physicals that have been held in the past. Also, schools should provide accommodations for students who are at risk or whose parents feel it is not yet safe to return to school.

Under a new bylaw passed by the AHSAA Central Board earlier this year, fall sports may start a week earlier if schools did not conduct a spring evaluation – which none in the River Region were able to because of the coronavirus pandemic – or may use that week as a tryout period. All fall sports (football, volleyball, cross country and swimming) are scheduled to start on Aug. 3. The new bylaw would allow those sports to start on July 27.

For this year only, winter sports (basketball, bowling, wrestling and indoor track) can choose either to hold an evaluation period during the first two weeks of school or start practice a week earlier – a practice start of Oct. 12 in basketball instead of Oct. 19, for example. Spring sports coaches can choose to either hold an evaluation period any time after the first two weeks of school or start a week earlier – a practice start of Jan. 18 in softball and baseball instead of Jan. 25, for example.