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Despite COVID-19 concerns, Utah announces high school sports will return for fall season

The Spectrum (St. George) logo The Spectrum (St. George) 7/9/2020 Chris Kwiecinski, St. George Spectrum & Daily News
a group of people jumping in the air: Pine View football defeats Canyon View 59-14 Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. © Chris Caldwell / The Spectrum & Daily News Pine View football defeats Canyon View 59-14 Friday, Sept. 6, 2019.

Nearly three months to the date of when the UHSAA shuttered spring sports, the association's board of trustees has made the long-awaited decision to play ball, for now at least.

The UHSAA Board of Trustees unanimously voted to continue with a fall sports season, with a few modifications due to the pandemic, during a meeting Thursday morning.

This decision was linked in part to schools being able to reopen in the fall for in-person learning.

"If school's going on, we want them to be able to not only go to school but also participate in extracurricular activities," UHSAA Executive Director Rob Cuff said after the vote. "Just like they can opt out of face-to-face learning, they can opt out of playing high school activities."

The board's meeting agenda consisted of only four points, discussing the Chair’s general observations, as well as by-laws and legal reports.

The board's hour-long discussion agreed specifically that the fall sports season will continue as scheduled, with participating teams and players will be held under UHSAA return-to-play guidelines and other guidelines from their local health departments. 

Fall sports under the UHSAA include: Baseball in 1A, cross country, boys golf, football, soccer girls, girls tennis and volleyball.

Some of the UHSAA's return-to-play guidelines discussed travel as well as fan attendance at games.

a group of people playing a game on the court: Danielle Backstead (9) goes for a spike against Crimson Cliffs earlier this season. © Chris Kwiecinski / The Spectrum and Daily News Danielle Backstead (9) goes for a spike against Crimson Cliffs earlier this season.

The UHSAA's guidelines under the yellow risk level, which was shared during the meeting, noted that practices will consist of no more than 50 participants, masks are to be "strictly observed" but not mandatory and social distancing should be maintained when practical and in family groups.

Washington and Iron Counties are currently in the yellow risk level.

The board also discussed what could happen come game day with spectators and fans in the stands, as well as what happens if a team decides not to travel for a game out of concerns of contracting the novel coronavirus.

The UHSAA board also noted it does not want families or athletes themselves driving to sanctioned events. Daily symptom and temperature checks are mandatory under the yellow risk level before athletes can participate in practice or games, as well as getting on a bus to travel to a game.

Another modification, when it comes to spectators, was implementing a digital ticket system, as well as having those who purchase a ticket online provide contact information should the local health departments need to begin contact tracing.

The UHSAA is also forgoing fines and sanctions for teams that don't play games due to cancelations or refusal to play. This includes teams needing to quarantine due to a positive case or if teams unable to travel to a school that's currently in the orange risk level.

"We want to be uniform," UHSAA Executive Director Rob Cuff said, "but we want to respect local control." 

The UHSAA Board of Trustees suspended spring sports on March 12 statewide for two weeks, including games and practices, under Gov. Gary Herbert's soft shut down due to concerns about the coronavirus. The suspended was extended for two more weeks on March 24, and sports were completely canceled on April 14.

The last time the Board of Trustees met on May 5 in a special session, they upheld the cancelation and further stated high school sports would only return if all 29 Utah counties were at the yellow risk level.

Currently, only Salt Lake City is at the orange risk level, while all other counties are either yellow or green. However, considering the recent spike of COVID-19 cases across Utah, Herbert said in late June that moving the state back to orange is always on the table.

a group of people playing a game of football: Snow Canyon soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal during the fall sports season in 2019. © Chris Kwiecinski Snow Canyon soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal during the fall sports season in 2019.

Region 9 athletes and coaches alike were saddened but understood the suspensions and subsequent cancelations. 

Some hoped for the UHSAA to reconsider, as a petition circulated asking the UHSAA to change its mind and allow players, specifically seniors, to finish out their seasons. This petition received more than 5,800 signatures, and gained traction until the UHSAA reaffirmed its cancelation in May.

The latest ruling by the UHSAA will allow athletes to return. However long those sports return for is ultimately up to the local health departments.

"This is going to be a hectic season," Brighton principal Tom Sherwood said. "This isn't business as usual."

Follow Chris Kwiecinski on Twitter @OchoK_. You can contact him at CKwiecinsk@thespectrum.com, or (435) 414-3261.

This article originally appeared on St. George Spectrum & Daily News: Despite COVID-19 concerns, Utah announces high school sports will return for fall season

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