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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Asa Hutchinson answers a question about the spike in positive cases during the daily COVID-19 briefing on Thursday at the state Capitol in Little Rock. Hutchinson announced that limited-contact team sports would be allowed to resume practice and competition starting June 1. - Photo by Thomas Metthe of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

This story has been updated with information released from the Arkansas Activities Association.

Sports will soon be returning to the state of Arkansas after Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday's daily COVID-19 news conference that certain sports will be able to resume practice and competition on June 1.

Limited-contact sports, such as baseball, softball, golf, track and field, cross country, gymnastics and swimming, will be allowed to resume practice and competition. Close-contact sports, such as football, volleyball, soccer, basketball, wrestling and martial arts, will be unable to have practices or competition.

"When it comes to baseball, let's play ball this summer," the governor said. "It's going to be a little bit different, but we wanted to put the protocols in place, so that our young people can have that experience again in this type of, what we would consider, a non-contact team sport."

The guidelines from the governor and the Arkansas Department of Health are effective June 1.

"He's just opening it back up slowly, I think, just trying to get back to some kind of normalcy," said Lance Taylor, executive director of the Arkansas Activities Association. "That's dealing with youth teams, non-school teams and school teams. This directive [is] for all of us to follow. They've got safety guidelines in place for the kids and the coaches."

A release from the Arkansas Activities Association was sent Friday afternoon, indicating that the organization is considering canceling the summer dead period.

"A decision on whether or not to waive the summer dead weeks will be made at the AAA Board of Director’s Summer Workshop June 9-10," the release said. "The Special Dead Period remains in place until May 30.

"On May 27th, we will provide supplemental information to the Governor's Directive for our member schools. The information will contain an acclimatization process requirement for the first 2-3 weeks, a sample form for screening questions, and an educational video for coaches and sponsors about COVID-19."

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ADH Directive for team sports

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General requirements include:

-- Maintaining minimum physical distancing of six feet between participants at all times, except when actively participating in the sports activity.

--Athletes, coaches and all staff must be screened prior to any activity by asking the following questions and excluded if the answer is yes: Have had a fever of 100.4 degrees or greater in the last two days; have a cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat, or loss of taste or smell; had contact with a person known to be infected with COVID-19 within the previous 14 days.

-- Coaches and all staff must have temperature checked by digital thermometer prior to entry, and those whose temperature is greater than 100.4 degrees must be excluded from the activity.

-- Face coverings, or masks, that completely cover the nose and mouth are required for everyone 10 years of age or older. Athletes must wear a face covering when not actively participating in the sports activity, and coaches must wear a face covering at all times. Face coverings, or masks, must be worn in sports where a face covering is not inhibitory, such as bowling, archery and shooting sports.

-- Use of communal spas, showers, saunas or other similar equipment are prohibited. Locker rooms may only be used for storage of personal items, and social distancing of 6 feet must be maintained in the locker room.

Close-contact sports will be limited to individual practice with their own equipment. Conditioning and weight training will also be allowed as long as:

-- Groups can maintain six feet between each person, including staff, whenever in an indoor or outdoor enclosed space.

-- When using weight rooms, practicing calisthenics, running or other conditioning training where vigorous exercise occurs, athletes can work out with 12 feet between each person.

-- Spotters are allowed on the outside of weight bars on each side, for safety reasons, but physical distancing must be maintained when not actively performing spotting duties.

"I'm sure the schools and the non-schools and the youth teams will all be excited," Taylor said. "I can speak for the school teams: I'm sure the student-athletes and their coaches, they're just going to be glad to get back together to see one another. They haven't seen each other in so long. So I think that'll be probably a morale booster to all of them to be able to be back together. School's a place where they're always usually pretty safe, and I think that'll be a great thing for the kids."

Fountain Lake athletic director Marc Davis said that this is just the first step to bring sports back.

"All this is the Phase One part," he said. "Phase One is just very minimal, but at least kids can get in and do some things at the schools. There's kids been throwing baseballs with each other, and there's kids been throwing footballs, and there's kids been practicing volleyball and kids that are shooting basketball all over the great United States. It's just they're not doing it on school campuses right now, so this just allows schools to do that."

Lakeside athletic director Don Pierce said that while everyone wants to see sports start back up, he wants to make sure that everyone remains safe.

"I know our kids want to get back," he said. "I know our coaches want them to get back, but as the athletic director, we've got to be as safe as we can. ... They keep saying the kids are not as affected as much, but my concern are my coaches. Those kids get together and maybe they go see grandma tonight, picked it up from another kid [asymptomatic] and that grandmother gets it. It's just a concern of safety for all, but yeah, I'm ready for kids to get up here, and let's go as safely as we can."

While the governor admitted that sports this summer will not be what fans are used to watching, he is happy to see sports start to resume.

"I'm delighted that we can play some ball even under challenging circumstances and with some restrictions that we're not used to," Hutchinson said. "This allows us to get back with activity, and we can revisit with some of those contact sports after June 30 or before. We will see where we are as a state to address that. I know how this is important for our families, our communities, and we've got to make sure that we take the proper safeguards."

High school football teams are scheduled to hold their first fall practice on Aug. 3 without pads, and the season is scheduled to start the week of Aug. 24-28, under a six-year calendar approved by the AAA prior to the 2019-2020 season. Golf is set to begin Aug. 3, and tennis is set to start Aug. 10.

Sports on 05/22/2020

Print Headline: Team sports set to resume June 1

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