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High school sports amid the pandemic: 10 things that look different this fall

From masks to handshake lines to scattered fans, the 2020 fall season already has a distinctly different look.

2021-June-11
American Fork (Utah) athletic director Jeremy Lewis was thrilled that high school sports were back, but he had an obligation to make sure all new protocols were followed. So, in the middle of the first half of his football team's varsity game with Timpview (Provo) last week, he halted play, got on a loudspeaker and told the estimated 1,000 fans in the stands to wear masks, get back to their assigned seats and practice general social distancing guidelines laid out by state and local officials.

Otherwise, the game wouldn't go on.

We're still in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, after all.

For the most part, fans obliged immediately, the game went on a few minutes later, American Fork prevailed 31-21 to move to 2-0 and high school sports continues throughout the state of Utah and in many other parts of the country.

Heading into the final weekend of August, 16 of the 50 states have decided to wait until 2021 to partake in high school sports due to COVID-19. The other 34 have committed to play in the fall with seven already having kicked things off and 10 more scheduled to do so by Friday. All have written up new safety guidelines that have led to many new rules and new looks in and around respective playing fields.

An athletic director stopping a game is one of those new looks. Here are nine others we've seen over the past two weeks:
A Skyridge (Lehi, Utah) player is flanked by a pair of masked teammates.
Photo by Shae Goodwin
A Skyridge (Lehi, Utah) player is flanked by a pair of masked teammates.
• Masked attackers — Tall, athletic front-row players on the volleyball court can be intimidating enough. But many players are choosing to don masks — they are not required but recommended in many states — giving an even more ominous look from the other side of the net.

New handshake line — Instead of lining up on either side of the 50-yard-line to shake in football, the COVID-19 acknowledgement is to line up on the hashes, raise a helmet and shout out appropriate sentiments, whatever those may be.

Check, and double check, that schedule — The calendar is subject to change. Contests have been and likely will continue to change, many at the last moment. In Indiana last week, Center Grove (Greenwood) had its opener put in jeopardy because Warren Central (Indianapolis) was under quarantine. Center Grove quickly rescheduled, beat Decatur Central (56-14) and now plays a cleared Warren Central squad on Friday.

Buy those tickets — With limited seating capacities due social distancing measures, football games are selling out quickly. Fremont (Provo, Utah) posted on Twitter today that tickets to its home game Friday with Roy were all gone.

Friday night stream — With fan restrictions and games selling out, fans — even parents — might be confined to their home computers, laptops or phones to watch the action. Same goes for reporters, too. Standout performers might be doing some of their post-game interviews via phone. The University Interscholastic League, the governing body of public schools in Texas, recently announced it will lift a ban temporarily on live telecasts and streaming of football games to allow fans to at least watch games.

Spreading out — The tight shoulder-to-shoulder, player-on-top-of-player mob look on football sideline now looks more like a pre-game exercise line. Mandates to keep players at a distance stretches now 80 yards from the 10-yard-line to the 10. It used to be a 50-yard team box, from the 25 to the 25.

One-sided — The days of switching sides after each volleyball set is now done. Teams are required to stay on one side of the court for the entire match.

Temperature checks — Ready, aim, thermometer. Not only are players constantly asked to remove their helmets to test for fevers with new digital thermometers, but fans allowed into games in many places must go through the same testing, too.

• Air celebrations — It's difficult, almost sad, to squelch teens from celebrating any triumph on the field or court, but guidelines highly recommend they are done without physical contact. So, young athletes of today are inventing new touchless celebrations that are both inspirational and, of course, creative.

Despite all the precautions, masking and social distancing, once the players are on the field and the competition commences, it all looks and feels pretty much like it did before COVID-19.

And that's a very appealing picture.
Some volleyball players are choosing to wear masks.
Photo by Joe Calomeni
Some volleyball players are choosing to wear masks.