Earlier this week, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) revised their guidance for safely playing sports during the COVID-19 pandemic that they first issued last May.
That brings hope to athletes that participate in high-risk sports such as wrestling and football that are currently shut down in Connecticut and in many states across the nation.
The original guidance from the NFHS in May 2020 split sports into three categories of risk – low, moderate and high. In Connecticut, the State Department of Health (DPH) used NFHS guidance in developing their own recommendations.
While practices and games have been held in sports classified as low and moderate risk, high-risk sports such as football, wrestling and competitive cheering have been shut down in Connecticut. An executive order from Gov. Ned Lamont in November calling for no practices or games for high risk sports through March 28.
The new guidance from the NFHS brings hope that perhaps something could be worked out for athletes that wrestle or play football.
“The CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference), DPH, and Governor’s office have been in contact with each other and will meet to discuss the NFHS’s updated guidance as part of our continued collaboration focused on providing safe sport experiences for Connecticut athletes,” said Glenn Lungarini, Executive Director of the CIAC
Timing will be difficult. When the CIAC announced that their winter sports plan in January, they said they would not be holding wrestling or football this spring because they are committed to providing the spring sports an opportunity to play – something they didn’t get last spring.
The entire spring sports season was cancelled a year ago after as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country.
The NFHS’ Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) did advise states and those organizations that sanction interscholastic athletics to consider five factors in assess when determining the risk of playing scholastic sports, the potential for COVID-19 transmission and what to do to make it a safe experience.
The NFHS said:
- COVID-19 rates of participants in any given sport are directly proportional to prevailing community disease rates.
- Participants in non-contact sports show lower rates of COVID-19 than contact sports.
- Participants in outdoor sports show lower rates of COVID-19 than indoor sports.
- Face mask use while participating in indoor sports results in COVID-19 rates comparable to the rates found in outdoor sports.
- The great majority of sports-related spread of COVID-19 does not appear to occur during sports participation, but from social contact. Maximizing efforts to prevent this type of spread remains paramount. Social distancing, mask use, staying home while ill and proper hygiene must continue to be emphasized in the locker room, on the sidelines, and while traveling, dining and interacting in the community.
“We appreciate the committee’s most recent attempts to reassess how student-athletes can participate in sports moving forward,” said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, executive director of NFHS. “While we have to be concerned about transmission of the virus first and foremost, we also must consider the mental health of students who have been unable to play sports thus far this year.”
The NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, a 15-member advisory committee, is composed of medical doctors, certified athletic trainers, high school coaches and officials, research specialists and state high school association executives.
“If the medical profession has learned anything in the past year, it is that we have to be open to regularly assessing all available evidence and make appropriate changes in policies and procedures in places of business, schools and athletics,” said Dr. Michael Koester, chair of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee who practices pediatric and adult sports medicine at the Slocum Center in Eugene, Oregon.
What does this mean for wrestling in Connecticut?
Nothing has changed. High-risk sports are still banned through March 28. But with organizations — the CIAC, Department of Health, Governor’s office — talking, there is some hope that something could be hammered out.
In the fall, the CIAC’s Wrestling Committee did come up with a lengthy set of recommendations to make the sport safer for the athletes including no tournaments, no multi-team events, a limit of 14 dual meets and everyone wearing masks at all times – except during the actual match.
Mats would be disinfected between bouts and there would be no overtime in matches. Wrestlers would practice in small groups to limit potential exposure. Additional recommendations are in the draft of the CIAC’s winter sports plan .
The only state in New England currently allowing high school wrestling this winter is New Hampshire, whose teams will compete in up to 10 dual meets. Vermont cancelled wrestling for the year while Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island have shifted wrestling to the spring. In New York, wrestling can begin this month if the local health department agrees that it is safe to do so.
The National High School Coaches Association announced late in January that they will host the 2021 national tournaments on April 23-25 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Registration opened on February 1 for the Senior, Junior, Sophomore and Freshman Nationals along with a girls national championship tournament.