6 extreme measures schools are taking to keep football alive
High schools in Florida have produced some of football’s greatest players, including Emmitt Smith, Frank Gore, Tim Tebow and Michael Irvin. Each year, a new crop of stars emerges to supplant their predecessors, earn scholarships and get on every NFL team’s radar.
Taking a season away would be monumental for elite players in the Sunshine State, but that’s what COVID-19 is threatening to do. Districts and schools that have tried to restart there (and in many other states such as Alabama where football reigns), have had to shut down or delay seasons because of individual positive cases or outbreaks. In addition, for schools operating in a hybrid or in-person model, it can be been difficult to gather athletes safely on site who may have been exposed to COVID-19 from other students.
But the Orange County School District outside Orlando has launched a Hail Mary of sorts to keep core players safe and unimpeded in the quest to play. Leaders there have taken a cue from the NBA, which essentially placed players in a “bubble” in order to protect and keep them away from other students and be able to play games.
So, players who want to compete in the Central Florida district this year have a choice: they must agree to learn remotely or enter a bubble with fellow teammates, ensuring they can mingle with fellow football players but not the rest of the student body.
A district spokesperson noted that “students will be able to continue their education on LaunchEd@Home or within a cohort group of their teammates. This will ensure that those athletes having direct contact and unable to adequately social distance, will not expose non-team members while attending face-to-face instruction.”
More unique strategies from other districts
Games in the Orlando area are slated to begin on Sept. 17, and stadiums or schools that do host will reduce capacity by 25%. Many schools districts, wanting to keep football alive because of protests by parents and coaches – and to give students opportunities to play – are looking at creative ways to keep the games going. They include:
- Moving location of key games. In Missouri, rival high schools Raytown and Raytown South were set to square off Friday at Chittwood Stadium but social distancing rules in Jackson County would only allow crowd capacity of 100. So they decided to move the game to a stadium in Kansas City in nearby Clay County, where the game could theoretically have unlimited fans. Of course, the goal for moving was not to draw a huge crowd but allow another 200 or so parents and families there to watch and still safely social distance.
- Pushing schedules back. Districts in states such as California have already canceled football in the fall and pushed it to the spring. Others haven’t given up hope of fall play but know an early September start can’t happen. San Antonio is one that decided to delay football until October. Games would start just before Halloween if all goes well. What that does is it gives districts time to survey how other districts are handling games and what measures they are taking when cases do occur. It also potentially will keep seasons in their traditional time frame, giving players the opportunity to not only play for championships but be able to get looked at when scouts are doing their jobs. If all else fails, they could then move the season to the spring.
- If cases occur, don’t pull the plug … yet. Alabama’s third largest school district, Baldwin County Schools, recently decided to suspend football activities for 10 days after a breakout of coronavirus. But it did not cancel its season. “Out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our students and staff, we will take a break and resume after Labor Day,” school superintendent Eddie Tyler said in a statement. Baldwin easily could have opted to push back the season, especially after Tyler was forced to admonish parents and students for not socially distancing or wearing masks at games. But in Alabama, where football is king, a second chance might be worth it.
- Self-quarantining players immediately. The Richmond R-XVI School District in Missouri this week sent a message out to all players and parents advising them to self-quarantine because players may have been exposed to COVID-19 during a game last Friday. With its season on the line, Richmond quickly reached out to those involved, letting them know to check for symptoms and report back, while also reaching out to local health officials to investigate and contact-trace players if necessary. The sooner that happens in any district, the sooner players can get back on the field.
- Reducing capacity and not selling tickets at the gate. Schools can say they’ll reduce capacity by 25%, but if they allow walk-up ticket sales, especially at multiple entrances, it might be difficult to know just how many people are within those stadiums. In Mississippi, the Lamar County School District is working with GOFAN to pre-sell tickets for this Friday night’s games. This not only ensures limited crowd sizes to 25%, it prevents contact in person with ticket sellers and money exchanging hands. Schools then must have strong plans in place and enforcement strategies to avoid what Baldwin School District in Alabama faced with parents and students skirting protocols once in the stadium.
Chris Burt is a reporter for District Administration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org