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NCHSAA issues COVID-19 fall sports recommendations

Beaufort County fall sports teams will start their seasons mask-free unless COVID-19 worsens causing the situation to change.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association issued guidelines-but no mandates-for the fall sports season that starts in less than two weeks.

The NCHSAA recommends that all coaches, athletes, spectators and other participants who are not fully vaccinated wear a face covering indoors, unless they state an exception applies and also practice physical distancing from anyone outside their household at all times.

The Beaufort County Board of Education voted two weeks ago to make masks optional on school grounds and on busses regardless of vaccination status.

Beaufort County Athletics Director Joe Tkach said the same policy applies to sports teams.

“We will follow school board policy for athletics for consistency if nothing else,” he explained. “It would be very hard, if not impossible to tell kids and their parents that they have to wear a mask while playing or practicing their sport after not wearing it all day in the classroom. The state association made it easy for us in that regard by not mandating face coverings.”

Tkach said athletes are welcome to wear masks if it makes them feel more comfortable, but doubts many will do so.

“Everybody figured out that it was really hard to compete with a mask on last fall and winter, so there will probably be few takers this time around,” he said. “I’m proud of our kids for pushing through last year and with vaccination rates rising recently, hopefully we can make it through without major disruptions.”

The NCHSAA released a list of recommended best practices for fall. Among the highlights: Coaches, officials and others should modify communication to avoid close, face-to-face contact.

Coaches should consider holding workouts in small groups to limit exposure in case someone contracts COVID-19.

Schools should schedule games to allow time in between for teams and fans to enter and exit with limited contact.

Disinfect shared equipment between uses and remind players to bring their own water bottles to avoid sharing.

Have players and bench personnel sit at least three feet apart to maintain social distancing.

“We are looking forward to an almost-normal fall season with fans in the stands and great competition,” Tkach said. “We will pass along the recommendations to the coaches and do our best to keep our athletes safe. If the state guidelines change, we will abide by those as well.”