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New AHSAA COVID-19 guidelines cost schools

The Alabama High School Athletic Association has issued some strict new guidelines to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The expected post-Thanksgiving virus surge was felt across the country and in Franklin County. There have been 441 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed since Dec. 1 and one new death; there have been 34 recorded deaths in Franklin County since the pandemic reached Alabama in March.

The main impact of the new guidelines is the strict capacity limits at basketball games. The AHSAA and ADPH have recommended no more than 20 percent capacity at basketball games.

In a 1,000-seat gymnasium – like Phil Campbell, Belgreen, Tharptown and Red Bay – that could limit attendance to no more than 200 people.

Capacity has to include cheerleaders and players from all teams participating, like the B-varsity, varsity girls and varsity boys. Once those numbers are factored in, schools are left with two tickets/vouchers to allot per player.

Not only will this dilute the fan atmosphere of a game, schools will take a big financial hit. Many schools will be lucky to break even for the remainder of the season.

Last year the price tag for game officials increased significantly. For a typical two-game varsity girls/boys game night, officials cost $450.  At the typical $6 admission, schools will require 75 paying customers just to break even on officials.

This does not count the many fans who enter with coaching cards or school employee cards.

The 17-game Franklin County Tournament, which is scheduled to be held at Tharptown High School the week of January 916, will also look much different. The school had already put several protective protocols in place for home games, but the county tournament poses an even more difficult challenge.

The cost for officials for the tournament is expected to exceed $3,000.

Here are the official new guidelines for high school basketball:

1. For indoor sports the total number of spectators should be limited to less than 20 percent of usual occupancy.

2. In any sport with hand-to-hand contact, or hand contact with a shared object such as a ball, players and officials should sanitize their hands each time they enter and leave the court or area of active play.

3. Hosting schools should make a public announcement at the beginning of each game and during intermissions reminding all spectators to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between themselves and people not from their household and to keep their face coverings or masks on at all times while in the athletic venue.

4. For sports tournaments involving multiple teams and games, programs should schedule and organize the events such that mingling of spectators with teams not actively engaged in competition is avoided.

5. Schools should encourage players, families and coaches to refrain from organizing non-sport-related social activities, which increase the risk for transmission and could jeopardize sport participation.

6. If a sporting event participant or official is diagnosed with COVID-19 within two days after an event, the opposite team and officials will be contacted to determine the need for quarantine of individuals in that group.

7. Athletic associations should encourage and empower sporting event officials to delay the start of an event or suspend competition whenever spectators are not complying with social distancing guidelines or proper wearing of face coverings or masks.