Football has returned to the Emerald Coast. And basketball. And marching band. And every other summer activity. Finally.
Tuesday, the Okaloosa County School District announced its procedure for conducting summer activities for both athletic teams and bands in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The plan is a phased approach to bringing students back on campuses this summer and places a priority on student and staff health and safety," a release from the district said. "It allows groups no larger than ten in an area, requires health screenings and temperature checks daily and calls for enhanced cleaning protocols."
Phase 0 began for coaches and band directors on June 1 and includes collection of appropriate paperwork from participating students as well as training on the phased plan from the school district.
Phase 1, which includes the first sessions of summer programs, begins June 8, according to the plan. Phase 2 and Phase 3 are "to be determined."
"This plan has been reviewed by our local health officials, and we believe that it is an appropriate first step that allows our students to re-engage with their classmates and teammates this summer," OCSD superintendent Marcus Chambers said in the statement.
Per the release, the guidelines are "derived from guidance set forth by the National Federation of State High School Associations and the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee."
Chambers is "pleased" summer activities will begin in earnest.
"Year after year, we have the best band, athletic, cheer and dance programs in the State of Florida, and that doesn’t happen by chance," he said. "I am confident our programs will continue to flourish in whatever the ‘new normal’ looks like going forward."
Likewise, Grant Thompson, Niceville’s second year athletic director and football coach, is also confident, though he anticipates implementing the Summer Activities Plan won’t be without its difficulties.
"Our guys down at the county did a really good job putting together a plan for us," Thompson said. "It’s really well done. It’s not necessarily gonna be easy to execute, but it’s very fair. Our coaches are gonna be in full compliance with it."
The Summer Activities Plan allows for the gradual relaxing of certain protocols, such as the maximum number of students and instructors who can be in a group at any given time, when it is appropriate to do so. Decisions on when to move to a different phase of the plan will be made with the input of state and local officials.
Phase 1 calls for all coaches and students to be screened for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 as they arrive on campus and prior to each workout. Screenings include a temperature check via "touchless" infrared thermometer and will be recorded and stored.
Students will also be required to let instructors know whether they, their family members, or those they have had contact with are experiencing or have experienced any signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
Any student or instructor who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 will not be permitted to participate and sent home with the recommendation to visit his or her primary care physician. Those who test positive for COVID-19 "will be case managed by the Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County." Those who test negative will be eligible to return to practice after 24 hours without symptoms and the use of medication.
Social distancing is required and equipment must be cleaned regularly and cannot be shared, according to the plan. For bands, instrument collection will require sanitizing and each middle school and high school will be sent a pump sprayer to do so.
School principals, band directors and athletic directors are responsible for implementing these plans, the district said in the release.
"Violation of guidelines will result in the suspension of a program for two weeks or until compliance is achieved, whichever is greater," the release said.
The inability to share equipment presents a unique challenge to area team sports. As such, Thompson plans to spend Phase 1 focused on conditioning.
"So what I told myself is while we’re under Phase 1 and we’re not allowed to use this equipment is it’s just about getting the guys back and ready to return to play physically," he said. "Getting them back in the weight room safely and kinda getting them changing directions and getting their cardio fitness back.
"Obviously, we’d like to use a ball but we understand why we can’t, so we’re gonna use the time to try to get back in football shape."
Additionally, all summer activities are considered voluntary and students cannot be penalized for not attending.
Based on those he has spoken with, Thompson anticipates attendance won’t be an issue.
"I haven’t heard from anybody that specifically had reservations about coming back out because of the virus, so I’m expecting a pretty good turn out," he said. "But, obviously anybody that’s apprehensive is not required to come."
Nevertheless, Thompson is excited to get back to work. In his first year at the helm, he opened with 12 straight wins, three shutouts and a Region 1-7A finals appearance, Niceville outscoring foes 404-138 along the way.
"I’m thrilled," he said. "I have missed these guys. I have missed the camaraderie between the players and the coaches. We were having a terrific offseason. Really was looking forward to that momentum carrying into spring.
"But I missed these guys so much; Any opportunity, whether it’s in groups of nine or 90, to be around these guys is a good opportunity for us."
More details on the guidelines can be found attached as PDFs on this article.
For additional information on the district’s response to COVID-19, please visit www.okaloosaschools.com.