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Utah high school athletes will have a fall season, even if it is ‘not normal,’ board rules

Alta High School hosts Timpview High School during a high school football game at Alta High School in Sandy on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.
Alta High School hosts Timpview High School during a high school football game at Alta High School in Sandy on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. The Utah High School Activities Association Board of Trustees announced Thursday that Utah high school sports will take place this fall.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

MIDVALE — Utah high school students will be allowed to play high school sports this fall.

Exactly what that will look like, however, will depend on individual schools, districts and health districts.

“This is going to be a hectic season,” said Brighton High School Principal Tom Sherwood, a member of the Utah High School Activities Association board of trustees, which voted unanimously Thursday to move forward with a fall season in all sports, even as it acknowledges the unprecedented times and the need for constant fluidity.

“It’s going to be messy,” Sherwood said. “This is going to be unique and there are going to be challenges.”

Sherwood’s comments came just before Juab School District’s Dale Whitlock and Murray School District’s Belinda Johnson made simultaneous motions to move forward with fall sports for high school athletes, even as they acknowledge the unique issues that they face in trying to sanction sports during a pandemic that is impacting each school in different ways.

“This gives parents and students the opportunity to choose,” said Rob Cuff, the association’s executive director, after an hourlong discussion that mirrored Wednesday’s executive committee’s discussion of the issues. “We probably ought to expect another meeting of this group in the next two or three weeks.”

While many districts are allowing summer workouts for individuals and teams, the first official day of Utah high school sports will be tryouts for boys golf on July 20. The first competition for the sport will be on July 27, with 1A baseball and football starting tryouts that same day.

Cuff cautioned that all schools need to work with local boards and health departments to make sure they’re compliant with local restrictions.

Johnson’s motion included the guidelines laid out by a subcommittee of the association that details different protocols for coaches and administrators depending on what the COVID-19 outbreak looks like in their communities. Her motion included that a fall season will require “a lot of patience and a lot of hard work.”

To which Sherwood added, “With the understanding that each school will be accountable to the guidelines set forth by their county health departments.”

There was some discussion about districts like Salt Lake and schools like Whitehorse High School in Montezuma Creek that are located in areas under moderate-risk or the “orange” recovery phase, which some feel means that contact sports can’t be offered. But Sherwood said he felt it important to move forward with the fall season and then try to help those schools in communities that have been impacted by COVID-19 outbreaks “find a path to play.”

Among those is the Salt Lake School District, which has three high schools that may not be able to participate in sports, despite being just a few miles from Granite School District schools that are in a low-risk or “yellow” phase and are forging plans to play.

At the beginning of the meeting, Brenan Jackson, an assistant director with the association, walked the board through the proposed guidelines, which separate protocols by the color coded system utilized by state government. It was given to schools as a guideline they could incorporate to those given by their local health departments.

The meeting including discussions about how schools plan to deal with fans at contests, and what to do if there is a COVID-19 outbreak or if a school doesn’t want to travel to a hot spot to play.

Sherwood said it may be the health department’s job to track down possible exposed individuals, but he said Brighton is considering using an online ticketing system so he can keep track of who attends games and where they sit. Right now, his stadiums don’t have reserved seating, but he has plans to remedy that.

“I’m going to have to figure out how to label those stands somehow,” he said. “But that’s my intent, is to do that.”

Johnson said Murray’s mayor said they simply need a name and contact information for every ticket sold, but they don’t have to require seat information.

“We do not want to hold a team to a forfeit if they’re unwilling to participate for whatever reason,” Cuff said. “We’re going to call those games a ‘no contest.’ ... If your opponent is still willing to play and there is another school willing to play, then we, as a staff, may have to, on a week-by-week basis, help with that.”

The association is recommending “that there be no out-of-state travel” this season.

Cuff said communication between schools is critical and needs to happen “as early as possible.”

“Bottom line, everybody is not going to play the same number of contests,” Cuff said, noting there may also be teams that lose games due to quarantine if a player tests positive.

“If we do have a postseason, and we’ll need to make that decision as we go,” he said. “There are going to be some changes where we’re going to have to be flexible.”

He said they’re also considering requiring masks at sporting events, and some districts are considering contests without spectators, although most want to try and find ways for students to attend at least home games.

The board of trustees also approved changes to its constitution and bylaws that impact transgender participation, and penalties for coaches when a team plays an ineligible player or players.