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'If we want to play sports, we need to take every step we can to make that happen': West Ada prepares to return to play

"Our intention is to let our kids play high school sports and minimize those factors that could impact us," West Ada Activities Director Jason Warr said Tuesday.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — During a special board meeting held by the West Ada School District, Activities Director Jason Warr answered questions from trustees about student-athletes returning to play

He says the district plans to move forward with fall sports, but with some adjustments.

"We anticipate that we're going to delay a week or so," Warr said. "Most practices were supposed to start Aug.10 and we're looking at Aug. 17 and then we'll look at it from there."

Last month, the Idaho High School Activities Association released state-wide guidelines for schools and student-athletes to return to play, including the risk of each sport.

RELATED: West Ada School District pushes start of school year to Sept. 8

There are four requirements before any Idaho high school districts can have student-athletes return to play:

  • All schools that host events are required to have a plan in place for fans and teams in attendance. That plan must include a reference to the Governors reopening guidelines for Stages 1, 2, 3, and 4. Each district's school board, in conjunction with guidance from the local health department, must approve the plan before games can be hosted. School districts may use the Governors reopening guidelines or come up with guidelines of their own, in conjunction with guidance from the local health department.
  • A transportation plan, when applicable, for practices and games.
  • A plan in place if a student-athlete or coach who is directly involved with the program were to test positive for COVID-19. That program must be formulated in conjunction with the local school board and the local health department.  
  • A 'return to participate' plan formulated in conjunction with the local school board and local health department.

"There are certain sports where we have no concerns about starting. I mean, cross country is one that they get out and run and we can social distance and we've shown the ability to create social distancing, good hygiene practices and different ways to mitigate these issues we've faced," Warr said. "Our goal is to play the season. We're going to have interconference games, it's going to be a new norm."

As far as getting fans back into the stands, Warr said it's still under consideration in the West Ada district.

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"We haven't quite gotten to that point because we all have differing viewpoints. Some people are saying no fans, some people are saying parents," he said. "I think that we've all come to the agreement that it's not going to be like it was in the past and that we just let everybody into the games, which is sad because that's what the high school experience is about. But we're going to create opportunities for our kids and in a safe manner." 

"Our intention is to let our kids play high school sports and minimize those factors that could impact us," Warr added.

However, if Ada County remains in the red category put in place by Central District Health, no games will take place.

"We wouldn't play a game in red right now. We would just keep our kids in a safe manner that we could keep them close and hopefully anticipate that we go to yellow," he said. "If we are in yellow as a district, I feel that we can handle those situations and handle them on a case by case scenario and offer so much more to our kids in the long run."

RELATED: Central District Health to consider new restrictions for Ada, Valley counties

Part of getting into the yellow category means minimizing the community spread. The easiest way to do that, according to Central District Health, is wearing a mask and practicing good hygiene.

"I don't think wearing masks will be an issue if we're telling people, you know, this gives us an opportunity to play, and so I think that's the one thing that's important to realize is people want the opportunity to play," Warr said.

"If you we're to just think of what a Friday night would look like, if [student-athletes] are not participating, they'll have a mask on. We won't ask participants that are playing to have masks on, but anybody else on the sidelines would have masks on."

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Besides having coaches and those on the bench wearing a mask, there are other precautions being put into place that will impact the flow of games.

"Within a 15-minute interval of a football game, you're going to see a break. We're going to bring people over and we're going to do wipe downs. You're going to use your own towels, we're going to give them extra time to sanitize," he said. "I would not be surprised if you did not have a person on the sidelines as they came running off, they'll have sanitizer and they'll be giving it to every player so they can wipe down their hands. The athletic trainers, they'll spray water into someone's mouth instead of just giving water bottles to every person. We're going to take every step we can possibly take to make it safe for those kids."

“As we go through this process, I think you can trust that we will improve and we will make great standards for our programs in putting them in safe environments.”

Ultimately, the decision on whether or not teams will be allowed to play games will be up to each individual district.

"If we got in the situation where we were in the red because we couldn't go back to school, our anticipation is that we would just be done with sports. If we were in red, we wouldn't play a game but we want to prepare in anticipation that we're moving to yellow.," Warr said. 

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"We want to give our kids an opportunity and even in red... red deals with COVID-19," he continued. "Red doesn't deal with the mental and emotional health of our kids. I have coaches that are very concerned about family life and what they're facing at home. We're looking at all of those factors."

Trustees raised the issue of what if parents send their kids to practice or to games with symptoms, or students come to practice sick because they're worried about not being able to play in from of college scouts. Warr says this year, it doesn't matter if you're the starting quarterback or the star of the volleyball team, if you're showing symptoms, stay home.

"We all know these kids and these families have a passion for their kids to be able to play sports. If COVID-19 wasn't here, it would be awesome, but it's here, so we are going to try and co-exist with it and put our kids in a safe environment. If we get hit with a hiccup, we're going to address it, we're going to deal with it, we're going to minimize it. That's where we're going to grow with this plan," Warr said. “Right now, if we want to play sports, we need to take every step we can to make that happen.”

Both Nampa and Caldwell School districts have pushed back their fall sports start dates by one week.

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