SCISA seeks safety as football season kicks off

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LOCAL TEAMS READY TO PLAY AFTER PANDEMIC DELAY

While major college leagues around the country were delaying or postponing their football seasons because of the coronavirus pandemic— and while South Carolina’s public schools were pushing back the start of fall practice — the S.C. Independent School Association (SCISA) decided to play.

SCISA athletic director Mike Fanning never wavered from the notion of playing a full season, allowing the state’s private school athletics programs to resume workouts under a set of guidelines to encourage social distancing and numerous best practices to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

The league delayed the start of football practice from July 30 to Aug. 3 and started with a phased approach — helmets only for the first week, shoulder pads added for the second week, and full pads allowed beginning Aug. 17. It also eliminated jamborees and scrimmages and pushed back the first games one week to Aug. 28, but SCISA has not shortened the season or eliminated non-region games, unlike the South Carolina High School League.

John Paul II coach Chris Myers remains optimistic that the season will go on, but he recognizes how fragile the situation is.

“Now, how realistic is it to make it all season long without a shutdown? I think that depends,” Myers said. “I think that there are going to be some positive cases here and there, and (it depends) how well those are treated by schools. I feel very confident in John Paul II and the Charleston diocese, what policies they have in place. But it brings up the question that you don't know what everybody else is doing. And that can be scary.”

Hilton Head Prep knows that fear all too well. Coach Dave Adams said the Dolphins got just two days into summer workouts in June before having to shut down when several athletes tested positive for the virus. Since starting back up in July, the school has avoided any further outbreaks by focusing on preventative measures such as checking players’ temperatures when they arrive, having players use hand sanitizer at each water break, and issuing each player individual water bottles.

SCISA football3

Those are standard practices at area schools, all of which require coaches to wear masks when interacting with students. Other adjustments aimed at limiting interactions include more liberal use of tackling dummies (which are sanitized between uses) in lieu of full-contact drills and working in smaller groups.

“We looked at the plan and we changed the plan about 10 times and tried to make it all as coordinated as we possibly could and get in line with the guidelines,” Hilton Head Christian Academy coach Ron Peduzzi said. “And it took some time, but our guys have been pretty good with it and working towards it. They’re getting better every day and making it work. They're getting used to what the guidelines are and how things should be run.”

SCISA has precautionary protocols in place for game day, such as moving the chain crew to the home sideline and having team ball boys stay on their own sidelines. But social distancing and football don’t mix. Linemen will smash into each other repeatedly for three hours, swapping sweat and likely spit, and nearly every play ends with a dogpile.

“There are going to be positive test cases here and there,” Fanning said. “We cannot eliminate that. All we can do is try to mitigate it.”

One concern is that players or coaches might downplay symptoms or avoid getting tested for fear of being quarantined for two weeks, but Fanning is confident schools will make the right decision because everyone — from the student-athletes and coaches to athletic training staff and school administrators — knows how much is riding on it.

It’s not just the football season that is up in the air, but the entire school year. The ability to attend classes in person, to participate in extracurricular activities, and even potentially the luxury of in-person graduation ceremonies could go by the wayside if someone acts irresponsibly.

“I believe in what our ADs and headmasters are doing,” Fanning said. “Sports is very important, but we cannot allow poor decisions on an athletic field to impact a school academically and negatively impact that entire school community.”

SCISA football2GAME DAY GUIDELINES

The S.C. Independent School Association has implemented coronavirus protocols as the football season gets underway.

  • Chain crews will be on the home side of the field and it is recommended crew members wear masks.
  • Ball boys will be on their own side of the field. Footballs will be cleaned and sanitized throughout the game.
  • Substitutes will socially distance at least 6 feet in the team box area.
  • After the game, teams will be physically distanced (6 feet or more) on their own side of the field and wave at opponents across the field.
  • Players, coaches, team personnel and game administration officials should wash and sanitize their hands often.