Hays High, TMP ready to adapt to sports safety guidelines

Randy Gonzales
Special to Hays Daily News
Hays High football coach Tony Crough talks to his team after a practice last year. High school fall sports practices start Monday.

Fall sports practice starts Monday for Hays High School and Thomas More Prep-Marian, with both schools employing enhanced health and safety protocols in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Face coverings will be commonplace. Social distancing will be strongly encouraged. Hand sanitizing will be the norm. Not only for players and coaches, but fans will be affected, too.

Hays High assistant principal/activities director Lance Krannawitter said Western Athletic Conference officials met this summer to discuss fall sports and come up with league guidelines.

WAC schools will require face coverings for fans at indoor sports; in the fall, that would be volleyball. For outdoor sports such as football, masks will not be required if fans practice social distancing. If social distancing is not possible, face coverings will be strongly encouraged. Krannawitter said HHS officials will monitor adherence at home games to see if it becomes an issue that needs to be addressed.

Activities director Troy Schulte said TMP will not require fans to wear face coverings at outdoor events, but would do so for indoor activities, such as volleyball.

Schulte said TMP will not limit the number of fans at games and will encourage social distancing. HHS also will not limit the number of fans and will make provisions for spacing out students at home football games. The pep band will be moved to another location and the student section will fill in where band members normally sit. Students will either practice social distancing or wear masks. Hays High staff also will conduct temperature checks before fans enter the gym at volleyball matches.

“The overall philosophy is we want to have school,” Krannawitter said. “We want to be able to have our kids participate in sports and activities. We need to do everything we possibly can to not have our numbers go up.”

Athletes, coaches, trainers and team managers also will follow safety protocols at both local schools. In the locker room for football, both Hays High and TMP will require face masks. With about 75 to 85 players out for football, having staggered dressing for practice and games is not realistic at HHS, Krannawitter said. TMP, with about 30 players out for football, will look into staggered dressing for the players. Schulte said halftime strategy sessions, if held in the locker room, would be held with face coverings.

For road trips, Hays High will use the same number of buses, but athletes will follow strict guidelines. They will wear masks and will not be allowed to talk with people in front or behind where they are sitting, just with people beside them. There also will be a seating chart, to be used in case contact tracing is necessary if there is a positive test.

Schulte said TMP might use additional buses for road trips, to allow for social distancing.

“The major (added) cost we’re looking at is transportation, if we have to limit the number of students on the bus,” he said. “That means we have to take more vehicles.”

While HHS will have a pep band, Schulte said a decision has not been made yet if TMP’s pep band will play at games. Both schools will have concessions, but they will be limited. HHS plans to add plastic sneeze guards for concession stands, with workers wearing masks and hand sanitizer available.

Coaches at both schools will wear masks if in close contact with athletes. Water breaks also will be opportunities for hand sanitization, Schulte said. TMP also will look to break into smaller groups as much as possible, to lessen the risk to the entire team if a player or coach tests positive for COVID-19. Krannawitter said HHS would follow the lead of the local health department if an athlete or coach tests positive.

“To say that we’re going to start canceling games or seasons, that’s going to depend a lot on the situation,” Krannawitter said.

Neither local school has had a fall sports event canceled, but Schulte said TMP’s home cross country meet will allow fewer entries. Hays High has had one volleyball team from the Kansas City area drop out of a home volleyball date. HHS also has had some schools opt out of playing in the Hays City Shoot-Out, the season opener for the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams. A Colorado school will not send its boys’ and girls’ teams to the tournament, and a girls’ team from Kansas also will not participate.

On the eve of fall sports starting, Krannawitter is hopeful.

“We are certainly optimistic that in the western part of the state we’ll be able to play sports as long as we follow the guidelines to be able to play,” he said. “Yes, I think we will be able to complete our seasons.”

Krannawitter was unsure about other schools’ ability to finish a season.

“Will we have a full schedule is the question,” he said.

Schulte said a major focal point this fall is changing the mindset of players and coaches, that it is not a problem if an athlete feels ill and can’t participate. He doesn’t want the coronavirus to spread. Playing time will not be affected.

“That’s one of the biggest emphases I’m trying to put on the coaches,” Schulte said.

Schulte said sports serve a purpose.

“Kids need sports, very important for social well-being, I believe,” Schulte said. “It is great kids have an opportunity. Do I have concerns? Obviously, I have concerns. I don’t want it to spread rampantly in our community.”

Other extra-curricular activities at the two local schools, such as band, choir, debate and theater could be or have already been affected. Some activities have gone virtual while others like band and choir are mainly spring activities. Schulte said TMP’s fall musical is still scheduled, but seating will be limited.

“We’re going to follow the guidelines the best we can,” Schulte said.

TMP-Marian football coach Jay Harris instructs his players during a practice last year.