New guidelines for high school sports released

There’s a new normal for high school student athletes across the state. Before the workout even begins, pre-screening temperature check, a daily questionnaire asking about symptoms, travel history and if they’ve had contact with anyone who may be sick.

“We screened 210 student athletes and it worked out very well,” said Sandy Mamary, Westfield Public Schools supervisor of athletics. “We got done in less than two hours, probably just because it was the first day, but we’re not going to be here two hours every morning.”

No one is allowed at workouts except athletes, coaches and certain school staff members per New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, NJSIAA, guidelines. Westfield head football coach Jim Desarno says he’s taking it slow and isn’t incorporating the football until the next phase in two weeks.

“We had seven stations set up where the kids rotated every 10 minutes. We had cone drills going in one station, we had agility bags in a station where they were going through. We had ladders. We had some sprint work,” he said.

Last week, the NJSIAA announced the start of high school fall sports was being pushed back. Competitions for most sports aren’t scheduled to start until October.

“We’re trying to acclimate and get back into the activity. I see a very big benefit with their psyche. I think that the kids and the coaches want to be with each other,” said Mamary.

The NJSIAA is limiting high school workouts to 90 minutes per day, including warm up and stretching. Only non-contact drills are allowed. Masks are only allowed off in moments of high intensity, like sprinting.

Student athletes are also separated into pods of 10 players. They’re socially distant in those groups.

“If one person in that pod tests positive, then that pod just gets shut down so they don’t contaminate the rest of the group,” said Mamary.

So how do you get from practice to competition in a matter of months with a pandemic that continues to evolve?

“We firmly feel that athletics should stay as local as possible as long as possible. That is why there will be no statewide travel, statewide competition. Our memo clearly states that any post-season competition will be at a sectional level or below,” said NJSIAA Chief Operating Officer Colleen Maguire.

The president of the West Jersey Football League, which includes 94 schools, says that’s exactly what they’re doing with the two playoff games they’re cleared to play. The format has yet to be decided.

“We can just go by records,” said Derryk Sellers, president of the West Jersey Football League. “That’s the easy part. The hard part is being able to play the games with all the things that are going on. We just want to ensure the safety of everyone.”

Nobody can predict how everything will ultimately play out, but Mamary says they’re going to get ready regardless.

“The more prepared that we can be ensures that we’re not scattered when somebody says, ‘OK, tomorrow you can compete,'” she said.

NJSIAA requires schools to give student athletes at least one day off a week from workouts. Westfield is only meeting four days a week for now as they continue to test the unchartered waters.