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High School Sports: MSHSAA votes to allow spring sports to be played over the summer

On April 9 after Governor Mike Parson ordered all Missouri schools to be closed for the remainder of the school year, the Missouri High School Activities Association officially canceled all spring sports postseason events.

One week after on Friday, the MSHSAA Board of Directors approved changes to summer by-laws that will allow schools to participate in spring sports activities over the summer if they choose to do so. MSHSAA also voted to allow seniors to be viewed as enrolled students throughout the summer, which will allow them to represent their high school one last time.

MSHSAA’s board consists of superintendents, principals and athletic directors across the state. Member schools wanted this passed because of the concern for spring sports athletes, most importantly seniors, to be able to have closure for the 2020 season.

However, summer activities still may not be possible due to the coronavirus pandemic as the current stay-at-home order in Missouri was recently extended through May 3 on Thursday. Even when the order is lifted, MSHSAA activities will still need to go through an approval process.

“The first thing that needs to be clearly understood is that all decisions about anything summer-related — be it contact, access, practice, games conditioning, etc. — must first be approved, cleared and deemed safe by the CDC, state and local health departments, the Governor and local Mayors,” MSHSAA Executive Director Dr. Kerwin Urhahn said in a press release. “The end of social distancing and ‘safe at home’ is still not clearly visible yet, and summer activities may not be possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its own timeline.”

As of right now if spring sports were to be held this summer, both Jackson and Saxony Lutheran Athletic Directors John Martin and Sam Sides do not have an idea of what the season would look like. Martin does hope it will be held before July, though.

Martin will contact fellow SEMO Conference athletic directors like Sides this week in order to hear their thoughts about having spring sports held this summer. Martin wants the conference to be united through this situation and how it should be handled.

“I’m sure there’s going to be varying opinions on it,” Martin said. “I’ve asked our spring sports coaches to reach out to local coaches within their respective sports and get their thoughts and ideas. We know there’s not going to be any MSHSAA postseason for sure — that’s not changed per MSHSAA’s announcement.”

For activities like baseball and soccer, Sides addressed the fact there could be conflicting schedules since those sports also have summer leagues. Local baseball players compete in the Babe Ruth and Legion leagues, while area soccer players are members of summer teams such as the Southeast Missouri Soccer Club.

However, Sides does see this as a good opportunity for track and field athletes since there are not many actual meets held over the summer.

“Summertime is usually pretty booked anyway with vacations, family stuff and athletes have summer leagues and camps,” Sides said. “This gives them extra options to hopefully get some closure with their teams if they so desire, but it’s not going to add any more days to the calendar. I don’t think it’s going to help a whole lot, but it doesn’t hurt anything either.”

Sides said he will leave the decision on whether or not to play over the summer up to Saxony’s head coaches. Sides believes all coaches could run into trouble of finding opponents since other team’s will have the same trouble of conflicting schedules with their athletes.

“[A summer season] would be a patchwork of ideas from different schools — you might squeeze a game in for baseball between a Legion game, Babe Ruth games and summer vacation,” Sides said. “To get all your kids there I think would be very difficult, but I think it could work out. If you get a few games in and whatever you get would be a bonus, so you have to roll with it and see what happens.”

Martin said the most important thing for athletic programs around the state will be not to rush back into the season if the stay-at-home order is no longer in effect on May 4.

“If we do this, we can’t just jump back right into playing,” Martin said. “If everything is lifted, you can’t throw athletes back out there May 4 and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to play somebody.’ You have to allow time to practice, train and that sort of thing. Again, I don’t know what that looks like [yet].”

Being a private school, Saxony does not legally have to follow the state’s mandate on whether or not it can play spring sports this summer. This is because Saxony follows the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, but Sides believes both the Missouri Synod and Saxony will honor whatever decision the state makes.

Both Jackson and Saxony have tentative schedules for graduation and prom and will adjust accordingly if these activities need to be pushed back to a later date this summer. Saxony’s graduation is scheduled for May 17, while Jackson currently has graduation set for June 19.

When athletic programs are able to schedule games for this summer, those contests will likely be tentative as well if modifications have to be made due to the pandemic, according to Sides.

“It’s a bunch of unknown stuff right now, and we try to work it out the best we can and figure out the schedules as we go along,” Sides said. “It all comes down to when this stuff is going to be cleared. Everybody is not going to necessarily be in the same situation. You may have one school cleared to go before another one — it’s going to be a mess trying to figure all of this out.”

Martin said June could potentially be a target date for spring sports to happen this summer, but that he could not give a definitive date on when anything would happen with the current uncertainty. “If we’re going to do something, we’re going to have to allow our coaches and student athletes to train and practice for a certain period of time before they can get out and compete from an injury standpoint.”

Martin said the potential problem with holding spring activities late in the summer, like in July, would be running too close to fall sports. MSHSAA’s definition of summer right now is that it begins after a school’s last day of classes and when the stay-at-home order is lifted.

“You can go a little while, but I don’t know how far into the summer you want to go,” Martin said. “Ideally, I think you’d like to try to get [the season] in before the first of July, but I don’t know what that looks like.”

The coronavirus pandemic has forced professional, collegiate and, of course, high school sports to postpone and/or cancel. Currently, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association’s seasons are postponed, while all NCAA basketball postseason tournaments and spring college seasons were canceled.

The Class 4 and 5 Final Fours for basketball in Missouri scheduled for March 20 and 21 were canceled, but the week before Class 1, 2 and 3 held the semifinal and state championship game with limited attendance. Both Martin and Sides believe restrictions will take place this summer if games are held.

“There will very likely be some modification — spread people out,” Sides said. “Some schools throughout the country have had a drive-thru graduations. … Outside you could have people in their cars or spaced out further in chairs.”

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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