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Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said high school sports will return this fall.

Speaking at a joint press conference Friday with state health officer Dr. Scott Harris for plans of reopening schools in the fall, Mackey expressed confidence high schools sports would resume.

“We will have extracurricular activities,” Mackey said. “They will look different. We are still working through that.”

High school sports, like national and collegiate sports, came to a halt in mid-March because of the coronavirus.

Student-athletes, in all sports, were allowed to return to their school to work out starting on June 1 under protocols such as physical distancing, wearing face masks and disinfecting work-related areas and equipment (such as footballs and basketballs) among other Alabama High School Athletic Association health mandates.

Official first practices for all fall sports — cross country, football, swimming/diving and volleyball — are scheduled for Monday, July 27 with first competitions in all of those sports set to begin on Thursday, Aug. 20, including the AHSAA’s Kickoff Classic at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.

The AHSAA, in a release after the Mackey/Harris press conference, said its Central Board would meet on July 22 to possibly provide a blueprint of what the high schools sports landscape for this fall might entail. Several committee meetings are scheduled prior to the board meeting to look at all possible scenarios.

“We appreciate Dr. Mackey and his staff for their tireless efforts,” AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said in the release. “I am looking forward to working with school administrators and with the AHSAA Football and Fall Sports committees which meet on July 7 in addition to the Alabama Football Coaches Association on July 8 to discuss the ALSDE Roadmap (of reopening) and the ADPH guidelines.

“The AHSAA will continue to study and produce ‘Best Practices’ (in conjunction with the AHSAA Central Board, Medical Advisory Board, ALSDE and ADPH) and will present the recommendations to the Central Board at its July 22 meeting.”

Savarese, like Mackey, expressed confidence the football season would start on schedule.

“The AHSAA is looking forward to hosting the Kickoff Classic at Cramton Bowl, which kicks off the 2020 football season Aug. 20-21,” Savarese said.

In the four weeks since the restart of workouts, a couple of schools — all in north Alabama — have suspended athletic workouts in the last two weeks after a couple of positive tests among student-athletes or a family member for the COVID-19 virus. Among those schools have been Arab (two positive tests), Lexington (one) Chelsea (two), Muscle Shoals (one) and Saks (one), though Arab and Lexington have returned to workouts.

Pinson Valley was the latest to suspend workouts on Friday after a family member of a student-athlete tested positive.

Albertville announced last week it had three student-athletes test positive and Florence announced it had one, but neither program suspended activities.

Mackey said protocols in football could include cleaning equipment as often as possible and practical, limiting access to the sidelines and possibly extending the players box to allow for increased social distancing.

“I won’t be on the sidelines as I have been some before,” Mackey said. “We don’t need the local mayor or the county commissioners on the sidelines. We need to practice distancing whenever possible.”

Mackey felt having fans at athletic events, particularly in football, was possible, especially after watching how schools throughout the state handled graduations.

“Can you social distance or physical distance the crowd? Yes,” he said. “There are ways we can do that. We saw that with graduations where families sat together, but they were six feet away from the next family. All across the state we saw that. There are ways we can make our athletes and stadiums safer for competition.”

Harris said it is important to manage expectations and realize that there could be COVID outbreaks related to extracurricular events.

“I think that is likely to happen,” he said. “I think that has to be taken into consideration as local officials make decisions about when and how to resume activities.”

David is sports writer for Dothan Eagle.

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