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High School Sports Start Back Up With Precautions

Catherine Wheeler
Campbell County High School's holds tennis practice on Wednesday, August 12, 2020. Head Coach Mark Miessler says he's confident it'll be a great season for the Camels.

On a bright and warm morning, Campbell County High School's football players are slowly shuffling out of the locker room and out to the practice field. The players have already had a conditioning workout earlier and a coaches' talk. Now they are waiting for the second practice to start.

The teenagers are talking and gossiping in groups when one upperclassman yells into a crowd of huddled-together freshmen.

"Hey, put a mask on! I'm not joking!"

The older player offered some sort of threat that might have involved a body part if the teammate did not comply. The reason: they do not want to get their season canceled.

Let's just say the younger player pulled up his purple neck gaiter.

Camels' Coach Andrew Rose appreciates that his team is buying-in to the new normal and that his senior players are helping to lead.

"A lot of them saw what the seniors of last year, the spring sports, went through in not having a spring season, so they're realizing their main season of football, it's in jeopardy a little bit if people aren't following suit and doing what they should be doing," Rose. "So, they're coming down on them and making sure they know it's not just affecting you, it's affecting me and I love this game and I want to make sure I'm playing it."

Last month, the Wyoming High School Activities Association (WHSAA) announced it would allow fall sports to proceed despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But of course, there are rules.

The guidelines include coaches and players wearing masks on the sidelines, keeping up with symptom screenings and temperature checks.

Campbell County tennis coach Mark Miessler said there's been a learning curve with the new rules, but they've also been helpful.

"Sometimes I'm forgetting to pull up my mask and stuff. And I'm like, 'Oh gosh, I gotta do it.' We know the seriousness of the way the state's taking this and we want to make sure we make it through," Miessler said. "I've actually sent only one home because it was pretty fluctuating on the temperature, but it was still high enough, I didn't feel comfortable, and I'm like, 'You just go ahead and go.' Those things are going to happen and we're just trying to do the best we can to make sure everyone stays safe."

Teams and coaches are also being asked to keep players in small groups or pods when possible in practices. Football Coach Rose said that's actually beneficial to his team.

"Kids are getting a lot more experience than what we'd initially done in the past. Our two's and three's are getting good quality reps and having them 10 minutes at a time, you get a little more time coaching in between you get to coach different groups, rather than just sitting with your top kids, it's been a little bit more efficient honestly," he said.

Xander Beeson, the Camels' senior end, said his family spent most of this year quarantining, so he has not seen many of his friends before practices started up.

"It's kind of giving me the vibe of a normal life that we haven't gotten to live much of in 2020, so it's a great feeling," Beeson said.

Wyoming High School Activities Association Commission Ron Laird said one of the ways they were able to move forward was by limiting the students' exposure to large groups of people.

"We were trying to reduce large gatherings. The number of cases that have increased in Wyoming this summer, we were told, were basically from weddings, family reunions, birthday parties, those types of large gatherings," he said.

Laird says the WHSAA is making more events one-day only, such as limiting overnight trips, and spreading out culminating events come playoffs time. Though, Gov. Mark Gordon recently altered the state's public health orders to allow outdoor gatherings to 50 percent capacity or up to 1,000 people.

That should help, as Laird said figuring out what to do with spectators is an ongoing concern.

"I really hope the adults aren't the ones who mess this up for the kids. Because it's about them. And if I don't get into a game, that's ok because my kid still got to play. We're going to do everything we can to get the parents and immediate family into the games, but there's not a set way on how we're going to do that yet," he said.

The WHSAA, schools and local health officials are working together on the contingency plans for what happens if a player does contract the coronavirus or if the season needs to shut down entirely, which would likely be up to health officials. But if games here and there have to be canceled for health concerns, that won't go against a team's record.

These same rules and guidelines will also apply to high school activities like marching band, Future Business Leaders of America, and speech and debate. And Laird said some of those groups were able to use virtual solutions last year.

"The most important part of keeping the sports season on track will be that everyone works together," Laird said. "I have the utmost confidence in our schools and our coaches that they will follow these protocols and we'll be celebrating in November that we were able to complete these fall sports."

Laird says WHSAA has not yet determined what to do about winter sports as they are waiting to see how the fall will go. But those indoor and close contact sports like basketball and wrestling will likely bring new challenges.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, cwheel11@uwyo.edu.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.

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