Guidelines aim to keep athletes safe as low-risk sports resume

As sports leagues and practices prepare to resume across the state, they will be able to do so under strict guidelines, which will vary from sport to sport.

The new rules aim to protect athletes from getting sick. It’s a new reality and tough consequence that Rutgers University is facing, when two of its football players tested positive for COVID-19 during voluntary practice.

“Social distancing, a mask and washing your hands. As simple as that sounds, all of us in this new normal have found out that you can easily forget. You can make a mistake when you’re in a large group of people; mistake can have a bigger effect though,” said Rutgers University football coach Greg Schiano.

Schiano says his football program is in uncharted territory as it prepares for the 2020 season.

“To say we have the answers that would be an arrogant statement. We are trying to do our best with all the information we have. I felt it was important that we did report our positives for a lot of reasons. One, to help everybody else. We are all in this together and I feel that’s an understatement. Right now, we’re told that we’re going to have a season that opens that weekend of the [September] 5 and we are going to prepare,” he said.

The positive tests at the collegiate level come as youth sports resume. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association has released the following safety guidelines for sports that are being categorized as low, medium or high risk.

On June 22, low risk sports such as golf and individual running can resume for inter-games, scrimmages and tournaments. On July 6, medium risk sports such baseball, softball, basketball, and soccer can resume traditional practices and competitions. On July 22, high risk sports, such as football, can resume.

“Football, in particular, probably, you will see people may try to opt out for the year. And we need to prepare for that, that we may not have the numbers that we’ve had in the past. Even soccer and lacrosse and wrestling can be very physical,” said Assemblyman Benji Wimberly.

Wimberly has been a coach for nearly 40 years. The father of four, who is also the director of recreation for the city of Paterson, was involved in drafting the following COVID guidance with the NJSIAA. Those safety measures include:

  • Each sports program is required to create a program preparation plan to ensure safety measures;
  • Coaching staff and parents/guardians should wear cloth face coverings at sporting events;
  • Athletes are encouraged to wear cloth or disposable face coverings when not engaging in vigorous activity, such as when sitting on the bench;
  • Athletes and coaching staff should be educated about when they should stay home and when they can return to activity, if they have COVID;
  • All athletes, coaches, and staff should bring their own water and equipment if possible to practices

“We may have to modify it to a clinical season where we do more teaching, as I said earlier, where kids learn techniques and terminology. I tell parents, I tell coaches that they should be the number one person when it comes to policing this matter. If they think there is any danger of somebody being sick, they should not participate,” Wimberly said.