Lake area schools seek to navigate fall sports through pandemic
The time has come.
After COVID-19 made its ugly presence known last spring, cancelling in-person classes and spring activities throughout the Lake area and the state of Missouri, an attempt will be made for fall activities to not meet the same exact fate.
Fall practices in the state began on Monday for high school programs and middle school practices are scheduled to begin on August 17. The virus certainly remains present and now, the question is whether high schools and middle schools can successfully administer and complete what professional and collegiate sports leagues have struggled to figure out. One thing that is certain is that Lake area schools will certainly try.
“It was really painful last spring standing in front of the spring sports athletes and telling them that we are cancelling their season, especially to those seniors,” Versailles activities director Kyle Middleton remarked. “That is something I do not wish to do again, so that is why we are trying to be as safe as possible, just so we can have some kind of season this fall.”
The Missouri State High School Activities Association has currently deferred to local school districts and health departments to make the best decisions for their students, as long as the requirements and phases set by the local health departments and governments are met.
In a board meeting on August 4, MSHSAA adopted some changes to make it easier for its member schools to participate this upcoming school year. Among those changes were allowing schools that do not meet in person to still participate in activities, lifting the restriction that a team or individual athlete has to compete in at least half of the scheduled competitions to be eligible for the postseason and allowing virtual competitions in activities with the appropriate technological capabilities. Each school has until September 11 to notify MSHSAA if there is a sport or activity that will not be able to participate in the postseason.
“It is a local school decision on what criteria it puts in place in order to earn the privilege to represent the school in interscholastic competition,” MSHSAA’s press release sent out on August 5 stated. “MSHSAA Member Schools may always be more restrictive than the minimum requirements of the MSHSAA By-Laws put in place by the member schools; however, they cannot be less restrictive.”
The Lake Sun has reached out to the activities directors at Camdenton, Osage, Eldon, Versailles, Climax Springs and Macks Creek to get a sense of what can be expected in the return to competition this fall. Here is what they had to say.
Fall Sports: Football, cheerleading, cross country, girls’ golf, boys’ soccer, softball, boys’ swimming, girls’ tennis and volleyball
Camdenton activities director Bill Kurtz knows full well how much the community supports its Lakers. With the active involvement by parents of student-athletes to those who do not have a student currently participating whom Kurtz calls “value-adding forces,” he says Camdenton coaches and athletes know that its the community that separates their programs from those at other schools.
“When our band is arriving in town after a nationally-recognized finish or the football buses roll back into town after a playoff win, there are patrons on the side of the road cheering us on and business signs already announcing congratulations,” he pointed out. “Girls basketball parents crowd into the SFCC gym to make room for hundreds of fans cheering on a sectional victory, cross country fans sprit from one side of a course to another while grandma sits at the curve between to push our athletes on.
“Dozens of parents each week of our seasons bring food to school for our game-day athletes and try to make the athletic director thick around the middle,” Kurtz continued jokingly. “We know we are very blessed to receive such attention from our community.”
And knowing all that, it is not an easy decision to limit much of that involvement in order to maximize student safety and limit possible exposure to the virus until health experts can agree the need for caution has passed. Camdenton currently has three different phases in place for spectators in the age of COVID.
The first phase has two levels of participation, dubbed “1A” and “1B.” If Camdenton School District leadership has determined that there is no need for any restrictions and it is safe enough for normal operations, the district will be in “1A.” Currently, Kurtz said the Lakers are in “1B.”
In phase “1B,” seating will be marked to allow for social distancing and social distancing announcements will be made throughout the contest. Masks will be required for entry and for movement within the venue, but not when spectators are seated. There will be vouchers issued to allow for ticket purchases by home and visiting fans up to a certain capacity and vouchers will also be supplied for away conference games. The supporters of a participant, with vouchers distributed through the participant, will have first priority with other community supporters following suit. Seating will be sectioned so groups of spectators can distance as needed, concessions will sell prepackaged food and drinks only and spectators must not gather to greet athletes before or after games.
In phase two the caps on vouchers will be adjusted as need after consultation with local health authorities and spectators must wear a mask to enter. Workers will wear masks, seating will be sectioned so groups of spectators can be properly separated from each other, concessions may be closed and spectators must still not gather to greet athletes before or after any game.
In phase three, only game workers and pre-approved media will be allowed and concessions will be closed.
For fans not in attendance, Camdenton is seeking to stream each game through mshsaa.tv, which will carry a pay-per-view charge and, according to Kurtz, cost the average family less than buying individual tickets. The activities director is also hoping it may become a learning opportunity for students interested in sports-related or graphic art-related careers while assisting in the streaming process.
Navigating through a difficult spring and uncertain future, Kurtz said all educators involved want what they think is best for the students and he has been glad to see coaches, “unrelenting in their desire to work for athletes.” There is no real precedent for a virus like COVID and as frustrating as it may be for those involved, there is an understanding for the need to be a little more conservative than the nature of any sport naturally permeates.
“Coaches always work around the subjective balance between the desire for student participation in activities and the need to, ‘Keep my kid safe.’ Our coaches know they have never had the ability to keep kids safe as each year there are twisted ankles, concussions and season-ending knee injuries, but normally there is a well-respected set of best practices a coach can tailor-fit to his or her current group,” Kurtz pointed out.
“Most of our coaches approach their lives as aggressively as they approach their activity so it is with selfless attention to the needs of others that they are approaching our new COVID landscape. We are very aware that we are dealing with children entrusted to us by others. We can discuss a blown knee and the powerful positive effect it can have on a future while both kid and coach are crying, but we have no expertise with the respiratory distress COVID may cause or the uncertainty it is causing now… I am proud to say Camdenton coaches are pushing hard to provide a normal-as-possible experience for their students within the nothing-close-to-normal and ever-changing set of rules we find ourselves operating.”
Fall Sports: Football, cheerleading, cross country, girls’ golf, boys’ soccer, softball, girls’ tennis and volleyball
Osage activities director Clinton Hague said following MSHSAA guidelines and recommendations, fans will be allowed as the school district looks at attendance numbers based on the current status of COVID and recommendations of the health department at the current time.
“We recommend attendees to wear masks and social distance, sitting in their family pods,” he said, describing what fans can expect. “We will not have concessions at the time, until further notice. Spectators will be allowed to bring in food, snacks and drinks.”
Hague said the only event that would not be capable of social distancing at this time is varsity football games and for those unable to attend, there will be coverage from local radio stations and one television station for each of the home varsity games. Volleyball games can be streamed through HUDL, if needed, and Hague said if fans have to be eliminated all together that there would be an attempt to stream as many events as possible.
The activities director has been proud of the work of each coach and he has been encouraged in the amount of participation by Osage students.
“The coaches have been great and have been working hard all summer to prepare for the season. We have had more kids at summer weights and conditioning than we ever have. We are ready to go,” he noted.
Fall Sports: Football, cheerleading, cross country, girls’ golf, softball and volleyball
At Eldon, Activities Director Steve Henderson said it is, “full steam ahead,” for competitions this fall. Working with the county health department, he noted that as of now there will be no restrictions on fans attending and it will be up to the fans if they want to wear masks or social distance. However, he noted it could change at any time.
Currently, Henderson also said that the school district is working to find the most efficient method of streaming games without adding a cost to patrons and to have something ready for the first games. Volleyball has HUDL to stream games and there are devices being sought out to stream football and softball games. Overall, it has been a learning curve in the age of COVID and the activities director is glad not too many changes have been made.
“We did lose our jamborees, but we still are good to go on our games. Due to the variations of each county in the state, we are keeping a close eye on what schools and counties are doing to be prepared for anything that might change,” he pointed out. “As for the coaches, they want to get back to some normalcy and to be with their kids.”
Fall Sports: Football, cheerleading, cross country, softball and volleyball
Currently, there will not be any restrictions on the number of spectators for any games at Versailles. Middleton said masks will be highly encouraged, but not required, and some guidelines will be in place for concession stand lines, bathroom lines and the front gates.
Versailles intends to livestream all home varsity games for football, softball and volleyball and he said the school district is currently working on streaming junior varsity and middle school home games as well. It has been a challenging time in a new reality, to say the least, and plans can easily changed based upon new information from the health department or MSHSAA.
“It has been very stressful on our coaches and players to worry about what sports will look like this fall,” Middleton said. “I look at it as we really want to have sports this school year but at what cost? Do we feel safe with the guidelines we are putting in? We are trying everything we can for these kids to enjoy high school athletics because I know after high school most of them will never get a chance like this again.”
Fall Sports: Softball and cross country
The first day of school for Cougars is August 25 and Activities Director Misti Maples said Climax Springs plans to return on time following all local health department guidelines during school and competition.
“It is our hope that our fans will be allowed to gather at all events, but this is dependent upon guidelines from the health department. Our district will encourage masks at competitions when social distancing cannot be maintained,” she stated.
Maples said the school district will have a videographer present at events to allow fans unable to attend to still be able to support athletes. Having an, “amazing community that supports our district wholeheartedly, we will work to accommodate them to the best of our ability.”
The key to a successful fall, according to Maples, is flexibility and adaptability for everyone. She said coaches are certainly ready for the challenge ahead.
“My coaches are eager to begin playing and to be able to compete in their full season. They are willing to take all necessary steps to keep their athletes safe and healthy, and have protocols in place for practices and competitions,” the activities director pointed out. “We are anxious to get to work.”
Fall Sports: Softball and cross country
As of this time, Macks Creek activities director Jason Trusty said the district is still developing its complete athletic plan in conjunction with MSHSAA and local health agency guidances. The Lake Sun will provide more information as soon as details for the final plan are available.
Facility Capacity at Camdenton- Phase 1B Plan
Bob Shore Stadium- Home 1200, Visitor 400
CMS gym- Home 400, Visitor 100
CHS Main Gym- Home 500, Visitor 100
CHS AUX Gym- Home 300, Visitor 100
Soccer Field- Home 250, Visitor 150
Softball Field- Home 150, Visitors 150
Baseball Field- Home 150, Visitor 100
Cross country- TBD
Tennis- Home 100, Visitor 75
Turf- Home 100, Visitor 100
RC Worthington Auditorium- TBD