Officials prepare for high school sports in Alaska to return in January

Published: Dec. 9, 2020 at 8:16 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Fall high school sports in Alaska happened. It didn’t come without quarantines and cancellations, but it happened. Some champions were crowned, while other’s championship aspirations were erased within days before the tournament. Now, officials in the Alaska high school sports landscape shift their focus towards winter sports, which features more participation than the fall or spring seasons.

The Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) of the Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) suggested that parents of participating student-athletes are required to sign a form acknowledging they have received a COVID-19 Risk sheet, with the wording attached to the pre-existing liability or waiver forms. It is recommended that students who are either presumed positive or positive of having contracted COVID-19 should be cleared by their medical provider and do a return to play protocol prior to returning to activities. ASAA approved both motions. While it is recommended, individual school districts can make the clearance mandatory.

One hot topic, both on and off the court, is masks. With consultation from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, ASAA previously required masks for all indoor sporting activities, before clarifying days later with verbiage that matched the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

“Right now, we haven’t come out and said you have to wear a mask at a state tournament, but we could get there,” said Executive Director of ASAA Billy Strickland, the regulating body for high school sports in Alaska. “The CDC recommendation is to wear masks where feasible, not where comfortable. The ‘if feasible’ creates a crack in the wearing, or not wearing, of masks because there could be very good reasons a basketball player could not feasibly wear that mask. We are not going to exclude a student that has a medical reason for not wearing a mask. It’s an issue we’re continuing to look at. If the CDC came out and said ‘we believe for the activity of basketball wearing a mask is feasible’, then we would probably mandate it, but right now it’s just ‘where feasible’ across the board.”

“For example, I believe the Anchorage School District is putting it into their mitigation plan that they will practice and play with masks on. Various school districts will look at how they want to develop their mitigation plans for these upcoming activities.” he added.

Wrestling, which typically wraps up in December prior to winter break, has a practice start date locked in for March 15, with the state tournament expected to take place May 21-22. Wrestling was one sport that ASAA previously considered testing for student-athletes prior to competition.

“Testing ultimately just means you don’t have the viral load right now, where within a couple of days it because a little less valid, so it is not a end all be all,” said Strickland. “We are also going to be able to see what some other states that are running earlier wrestling seasons are able to do in terms of their mitigations, including testing. Right now, the whole testing infrastructure is pretty overwhelmed.”

The puck is set to drop on the high school hockey season with practice January 4. The Division II state tournament is set for February 18-20, while DI is scheduled for February 25-27. While a school or conference’s season may extend until May, the state tournaments must take place during that time frame. According to Strickland, the Anchorage School District isn’t expected to begin their hockey season until February or March. In the Fairbanks-area, ice time may be an issue. The Patty Ice Arena is being prepped to host the University of Alaska’s Division I home schedule, while the Big Dipper Ice Arena is limiting the number of skaters and time allocated on the ice. High school hockey may turn back the clock and compete at outdoor rinks. In addition to ice time, COVID concerns still remain.

“The sport that seems to have the most spread is hockey. They think it’s because those rinks were designed to be very tight, so the ventilation system may be significantly different than what a gymnasium would be,” Strickland said. “I think doing it outdoors is a great idea. I think if you talked to the old-timers they would be like ‘yeah we were tough, we played outside, it’s how hockey started in Fairbanks.’”

Other Notes

The number of mandatory practices prior to competition was reduced from 10 days to seven. Items that were tabled from ASAA’s December 7 Board meeting, their final of 2020, include berths for state tournaments, opt-out deadlines for state tournaments and the reclassification of football. ASAA will form a committee to explore adding Class 5A to the basketball landscape and will report back in January. The committee will explore the need, the cost and facility logistics of adding a Class.

FIFA (soccer) and Madden (NFL) were approved as sanctioned games for ASAA eSports in the Spring semester. The current eSports catalog in Alaska includes League of Legends, Rocket League and Smite.

The next ASAA Board Meeting is scheduled for January 11.

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