How COVID-19 Has Changed High School Sports

The logo for the Georgia High School Association, also known as GHSA, who created the COVID regulations for sports this year. Photo from GHSA.

The logo for the Georgia High School Association, also known as GHSA, who created the COVID regulations for sports this year. Photo from GHSA.

As the world adjusts to a new normal– a new way of life amid the pandemic caused by COVID-19–education, restaurants, places of business and places of worship are not the only areas affected by the changing times. High school sports have had to go through changes in how they operate, some big and some small, in order to keep a safe environment for athletes, coaches and spectators. According to athletic director Scott Tilden, “Athletes are required to check in with the coaching staff or athletic trainer before every practice. The coaching staff must take the temperature of every athlete as well as ask them a series of questions regarding possible symptoms.  This takes place every day at every practice at North Forsyth High School. Forsyth County Schools have decided to limit seating capacity at the larger venues.” When asked about how spectators are affected, Tilden explains, “the seating capacity for football games, basketball games, and wrestling matches is 60 percent.  In addition, spectators are being asked to sit in every other row. On November 17, Forsyth County Schools made the decision to require masks be worn in order to enter an athletic event on North Forsyth’s campus.”

Every sport has gone through some sort of change from the way they used to do things. From mountain biking to volleyball, their regular routines have been disrupted. Joan Graham, head coach of the mountain biking team, explains how COVID-19 regulations have changed their season. “Instead of students from all schools racing against each other, students rode with their own team in time trial fashion. Each student’s time was recorded, and placement was determined based on that.” In years prior, athletes could pre-ride the course to get a feel for it; however, this option was eliminated this season and replaced with a designated warm up area. There were also different numbers of laps athletes rode in years prior depending on their grade, but now every athlete completes one lap and their time trial determines their place in the event.

While softball’s season has passed, they had to abide by various COVID regulations. In previous seasons, players could use a game ball after it went out of play, but according to Head Softball Coach Jim Cahill, “When a ball goes out of play, the catcher shall get another game ball. The catcher shall show (not hand) the ball to the home plate umpire for visual inspection.” Other regulations were put into place including face masks at all times in the dugout, social distancing and face masks during the pregame plate meeting and the elimination of handshakes after the completion of a game. 

This year, football’s season was pushed back several weeks, which did not affect their regular season, but it did affect their preseason. According to Head Football Coach Robert Craft, their “preseason was delayed several weeks. For the first six weeks, we were not allowed to have our entire team together. Towards the end of July, we were able to begin full team workouts.” With the various changes and COVID regulations the football team had to follow, Craft explains, “The health and well-being of all our players and staff must be the top priority. Once we get on the field, it’s back to normal and playing the game.” Because of these differences, this season of football has had many differences from those prior; however, Craft says the “biggest difference is everyone not taking anything for granted. Knowing that things could get shut down again, I think everyone is more appreciative. We are thankful to be playing.”

 One of the biggest effects of the COVID regulations put into place are the contact quarantine rules for all students across Forsyth County Schools. According to Assistant Flag Football Coach Erika Ford, “the main way COVID has affected our practices and game play is if someone gets quarantined. e lose that athlete for 10 days and have to readjust until they return. For game play, it has definitely affected our schedule. Other teams have been quarantined; therefore, lots of make up games and game changes have been made in order to work around that.” Luckily, many of the athletes are seniors and they do not come on campus. However, the athletes that are on campus are encouraged to wear a mask in order to protect themselves, their teammates and the opposing teams. 

There are regulations for outdoor sports, but what about indoor sports? Volleyball and the swim team have regulations as well. According to Head Volleyball Coach Kelly Cecil, they had many different COVID regulations. All coaches had to wear masks, players had to wear masks until warm ups started and if they were on the bench. Only volleyball players were allowed to touch the game ball or it had to be replaced, the net had to be cleaned and sanitized between sets and matches, all huddles had to be social distanced, no pre or post game handshakes, all fans had to social distance in the stands and temperature checks were done regularly. At first, the COVID regulations were something the athletes had to get used to; however, they soon became part of their normal routine. 

The regulations for swim are very different this year than they had been prior. Only six students are allowed in a lane at a time, and there is a limited number of swimmers each team can have at a meet. The state meet for swim will look very different than it used to be. Head Swim Coach Tyler Martin explains “The state meet will be different because it will likely not be a preliminary and finals meet. It will all be on one day, and the boys and girls will swim separately (one in the morning & one in the afternoon), which makes the seed times (placement times) for state that much more important.” Much  like mountain biking, these swimmers have to focus more on improving and cutting off seconds for their times since they play a bigger role in determining the winners. 

Many sports are beginning to emerge from their pre-season workouts and enter into actual practices. For example, girls basketball has already had a scrimmage this month against Alpharetta beating them 62 – 27. According to Maddie Erickson, a varsity player on the girls basketball team, “most preseason practices were either cancelled or cut short due to COVID, but once the season began we were able to enforce the rules to help us be safe.” Some of the guidelines they must follow are as follows: “you are required to wear a mask before the games, there is limited time in the locker room and we have quick transitions between drills in practice to encourage the fifteen minutes rule,” said Erickson. 

Wrestling began practices earlier this month, but they had very limited preseason workouts. They were only allowed to do weight training. Physical wrestling was not allowed prior to the beginning of the season, which reduces the spread of the virus due to contact. Like  many other sports, wrestling has been struggling to fill out and complete their schedule. Head Wrestling Coach Travis Jarrard explains, “We had several events cancelled, so it has been a struggle to fill out the schedule. COVID is really having a negative impact on the girls wrestling program and the JV program because no one is hosting tournaments for them.” 

In years prior, competition cheerleading began competing in October; however, their season has been pushed back this year with competitions beginning in December. Head Competition Cheerleading Coach Jessica Wood said, “Adjusting our season has been a big hit as it not only pushed us into another time of year, but puts pressure on getting caught up from those months of training lost. We had to push our choreography back, which, in turn, limits the amount of prep for our routine. We do not have our first competition scheduled until December, but we still have that feeling of urgency to be ready (…and we are also continuing with our goal to place the same or higher at the previous season).” Competition cheerleading lost their preseason because of COVID regulations. They were not allowed to begin stunting or choreography until mid-July, and they were still limited to only tumbling. “This is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Not only are we battling COVID, but trying to play a constant game of catch up,” explained Wood. 

With all of these regulations, one might think these student athletes would be scared and anxious about coming back to their sport; however, all of these teams are at full capacity. Mckayla Cothran, a senior softball player, expressed some of the anxieties she had about COVID during her season. She said, “This season was different because throughout the whole season we had to stress about if someone in our classes were to get COVID, that meant we couldn’t play because we would have to be quarantined. With COVID happening my senior year, it honestly gave me a lot of perspective and taught me to never take a game or practice for granted.” 

Isabella Landis, a junior competition cheerleader, explains how their season has been pushed back and the effect it has had. “I think this season we are playing more catch-up due to the fact that we didn’t have all summer to practice due to COVID. We have also had to deal with teammates being put into quarantine, which throws off the team because we are missing key members. It is also weird for our season to be moved to the winter versus the fall. Many cheerleaders are doing another winter varsity sport like me, or they have other commitments like all star cheer,” said Landis. 

COVID has created many road-blocks and hiccups in high school sports; however, the coaches and administrative team at North Forsyth have done everything they can to ensure the athletes can participate as much as possible. With all of these new regulations and guidelines for athletes, coaches and spectators, it can seem overwhelming, but the North Forsyth community is still able to enjoy the sports they love.