By Carey Phillips

The N.C. High School Athletic Association will allow sports to resume on a limited basis Monday.

That’s when a 94-day dead period, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, ends. Individual school districts can implement a later start date and stricter guidelines than those of the NCHSAA.

Superintendent Kim Elliott said the Jackson County Board of Education will meet at 6 p.m. today (Thursday) to discuss the issue.

“It’s progress,” Smoky Mountain Athletic Director Adam Phillips said of the guidelines being issued. “It’s a step in the right direction. I know our coaches and kids are eager to get on with it. We’re just waiting on guidance from our school board.”

Key strategies for all sports include hand hygiene, social distancing of at least 6 feet, disinfecting high-touch areas and screening for COVID-19 symptoms. The restrictions include the prevention of physical contact and sharing equipment.

The NCHSAA is entering the first of three phases Monday. No guidelines have been issued for the second or third phase. They will be developed according to Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening guidelines along with guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several requirements for cleaning of facilities have been put in place, and schools must develop a plan to prevent groups from gathering at entrances/exits to facilities.

Workouts will be limited to 90 minutes with no more than 25 people outside and no more than 10 people inside. That includes coaches, managers, trainers and other personnel. Workouts should be conducted in pods with the same 5-10 athletes working out together each day. Records of the groups must be maintained to facilitate contact tracing, if required.

There must be a minimum of 6 feet between individuals at all times. If that is not possible, the number of participants must be reduced.

All coaches and athletes must be screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms, including a temperature check. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher or who reports any symptoms will not be allowed to participate. Responses to questions for each person must be recorded and stored. The head coach or a designee is responsible for collecting the data each day.

If someone on the team tests positive for COVID-19, all members of that pod and those who had close contact with the individual should: Quarantine for 14 days past last exposure unless a COVID-19 test comes back negative; check temperature twice a day; and stay away from people who are higher risk, if possible.

To resume workouts after a positive test, an athlete or coach must meet all of the following: No fever for 72 hours without any fever-reducing medications; resolution of respiratory symptoms; at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared; a note of clearance from a licensed medical provider.

State, local or school district guidelines for face coverings must be strictly followed. Coaches, staff, managers and others are strongly encouraged to wear cloth face coverings at all times. Athletes are strongly recommended to wear cloth face coverings when not involved in physical activity. Face coverings cannot be shared. Artificial noisemakers may be used instead of whistles.

No spitting, including sunflower seeds, is allowed. Food and water bottles may not be shared. There will be no team travel. Physical contact such as high fives, fist/elbow bumps and hugs are prohibited.

Locker and training rooms are off limits as are weight and mat rooms. Weights, mats and other training equipment may be moved outside if placed 12 feet apart.

Spectators will not be allowed at workouts. Parents may stay in their cars, but there will be no congregating allowed in parking lots or adjacent fields.

The NCHSAA has broken down sports into lower and higher risk categories. Sports listed as higher risks and their guidelines include:

Football: Wearing protective equipment is prohibited. Conditioning and individual skill drills are allowed. A player must not participate in drills with a single ball that will be handed off or passed to teammates. Contact with other players is not allowed. Tackling dummies, donuts and sleds must be disinfected after each use.

Volleyball: Conditioning and individual ball-handling drills are allowed with each player having her own ball. A player must not participate in drills with a single ball that will be bumped, served or passed to teammates.

Soccer: Conditioning and individual ball skill drills are allowed if each player has own ball which is disinfected after workouts. Players are to use feet only. Heading, use of hands and contact is not allowed.

Basketball: Conditioning and individual basketball skill drills are allowed. There is to be no contact or sharing of balls. Players may practice shooting and retrieve their own ball. A player must not participate in drills with a single ball that will be handed of or passed to teammates.

Wrestling: Mat room is closed. Conditioning and mirror drills with spacing are allowed. Wrestlers may skill and drill, without touching a teammate, with 6 feet of distance. There will be no contact.

Cheerleading: Conditioning and individual technique/choreography work are allowed. There will be no practicing or performing partner or group stunts. Chants, jumps, dance and tumbling without contact and with 6 feet of distance are allowed.

Sports listed as lower risks and their guidelines include:

Cross Country: Runners must maintain at least 6 feet of distance. There will be no grouping at starts or finishes.

Golf: Maintain appropriate physical distancing of at least 6 feet.

Tennis: Conditioning is allowed, but there will be no sharing of balls. Each player may use her own can of balls to serve. Ball machines may be used by individuals only. Players may do individual drills, wall volleys and serves. Rackets and balls will be disinfected after use.

Baseball and softball: Conditioning and “tee” or pitching machines are allowed. Players must not share gloves or bats, or throw a ball that will be tossed among the team. A single player may hit in cages or throw batting practice (with netting as backstop, no catcher). Prior to another athlete using the same balls, they must be collected and disinfected individually. Dugouts are closed.

Swimming: Maintain appropriate distance of at least 6 feet.

Track and Field: Runners must maintain at least 6 feet of distance with no grouping at starts and finishes. There will be no sharing of implements/equipment. Padded equipment, landing pits and poles must be disinfected between uses.

The coronavirus dead period started March 13 and has been extended three times. The pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the spring sports season and state basketball championship games.