High School Sports Return To Benton County Schools In Fall

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
August 10 was the first date for Missouri schools to start fall sports practice sessions. However, some of the school districts in Missouri have been told by their county health departments that virtual learning is their only option, and that school sports and other activities are not recommended.  So far, all three public school districts in Benton County plan in-class instruction for the 2020/2021 school year, and fall sports training began last Monday. However, school start up is unlike any other opening in past years.
Ryan Boyer, Athletic Director for the Warsaw Independent School District, said that “It has been an interesting summer!” Sports that are offered this fall are Football, Volley Ball, Cross Country and Marching Band. Softball has been moved to a spring schedule. Two football camps were scheduled in the summer. One was to be in June and the other in July, but because of strict guidelines in June, both camps were held in July. The summer football scrimmage was cancelled. 
“We have been training by grade level, and have used social distancing,” said Boyer. “The kids have been doing a good job of following safety guidelines. We have had a chance to get used to some of the changes we have had to make to keep everybody safe during the summer.”
Boyer said that teams have temperature checks every day, and each player brings a personal sanitizer bottle. He said that even though cleanliness has always been practiced, more disinfecting is done now.
“We are following protocols issued by state governing bodies, and narrowing them down more with guidelines from the School Board and Benton County Health Department,” said Boyer. “The Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) suggests that we only fill 50 percent of the seats in our stadium during games, and I have measured the stadium to see if there is room for fans to bring lawn chairs so they can sit on the ground.”
He said that there are three tiers to consider when having a game. The first tier consists of coaches, officials, staff, medical staff, security and players. Media is in the second tier, and spectators and vendors are in the third tier. When the season gets started, it is possible that only the first two tiers will be allowed in the stadium. However, Warsaw has the advantage of having its games on ETV so fans can still see them. There are many school districts that do not have that technology benefit.
“The nice thing is that we are going to be on the road for the first two weeks and can see how other schools are handling safety practices,” said Boyer. 
Masks are being worn by students and athletes at all times unless they are participating in strenuous activities where a mask might restrict breathing. They have what are called neck gaiters that can be pulled up to cover the mouth and nose, and pulled down when necessary. The Marching band has special-ordered masks that allow them to play their instruments. The football team usually travels to away games on two buses, and now will need three buses to allow for social distancing. During water breaks, team members are tempted to stop and talk to fellow players, but they are learning to be more responsible. 
“If we have to shut down in the fall, we would move our fall sports to the spring, and the spring sports to May and June,” said Boyer. 
Lincoln Independent School District Athletic Director, Adam Curtis, said that its fall sports are Football, Volley Ball and Cheerleading. They also have a Marching Band. Lincoln is offering a “virtual school” option for those students whose parents don’t feel comfortable sending their children back to school yet. The program is called Launch. However, children in this program will not be eligible to participate in school-sponsored athletics and/or activities per MSHSAA guidelines. The Marching Band will perform at home games but will not travel out-of-town. 
Just as in Warsaw schools, social distancing and mask wearing is taking place, and students bring their own water bottles. There are no more “universal water holes.” As far as keeping seating at games at 50 percent capacity, Curtis said that Lincoln has a lot of space so that fans can spread out on the field. At present, Lincoln’s 25 football players are able to practice safe distancing on one school bus, but that could change if necessary.
Curtis said that Lincoln schools still have a few weeks until the beginning of school to figure out all of the safety protocols regarding sports. Some of the school-wide accommodations that are being used include reduced numbers of people in the cafeteria, changed sanitization practices in all high traffic areas, daily sanitizing, changing of water fountains to bottle fillers, changing bathrooms to touchless equipment, purchase of multiple touchless thermometers and more sanitizing units, providing masks for every student and staff member, and elimination of tables from classrooms. 
Kevin Shearer, Director of Student Services, Athletic Director and Football Coach of Cole Camp schools, said that Cole Camp has made a lot of changes. An important part of school is being more flexible about how people feel.
“Everyone is kind of disoriented and there are a lot of ‘What if’s’, said Shearer. “We are in limbo over scheduling, and our biggest hurdle is waiting for the next shoe to drop in the fall. Will we be shut down?”
Sports scheduled for the fall are Girl’s Golf, Volley Ball, Soccer, and high school Football. The Band will perform, but their competitions have been cancelled. Shearer said that their June football camp was cancelled and  rescheduled, taking place in July.
Shearer said that Cole Camp is doing a lot of physical things that other districts are doing such as wearing masks when appropriate, having temperatures taken and asking questions about symptoms daily. Watering machines are not being used, and he has athletes bring milk jugs of water with them to practice so they have enough to drink. 
“Technology is bigger,” said Shearer. “We cannot have a true sit-down meeting with parents anymore. We are using foggers to disinfect, janitors are doing more, and we are in never-ending training to learn how to be safe in combination with the usual things we do at the beginning of school.’
He said that if people get infected by the coronavirus, it will produce an interesting dynamic that has an impact on family and friends. And there will be quarantine. 
“The good thing is that students have not been in a normal school environment for six months and they want to come back to school,” said Shearer.  “Usually, in a normal beginning of school that is not the case.”
www.koamnewsnow.com reported on July 13, that the Missouri State Board of Education recently passed some changes that would allow districts to use “hybrid” schooling, a combination of virtual and on campus classes. It allows for districts that may choose alternating days in class, or even those opting for am and pm classes, to not be impacted in attendance. 
Kansas City Public Schools, Missouri, have delayed plans for in-person classes after a rise in coronavirus cases within the school district’s boundaries. Unless the number of new cases drop for 14 consecutive days before August 24, the scheduled first day of school in that district, it is unlikely the district will be able to open for in-person instruction.
Many schools in the St. Louis area aim at opening anywhere from August 10 to 27, but most are holding on-line classes or Hybrid classes. At www.kmov.com, an article dated August 6 reported that out of the 25 largest districts in the St. Louis area, only Fort Zumwalt School District was going to offer in-person instruction, 5 days a week.