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Bay District Schools Unveils Safety Measures For Fall Athletic Events

Tommy Oliver Stadium Bay District Schools.jpg
Valerie Crowder
Bay County's first high school football game of the season will take place at Tommy Oliver Stadium in Panama City on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.

Friday night high school football games aren’t off-limits during the pandemic, but spectators and athletes can expect a different experience.

Last Friday, schools across the state were allowed to resume fall athletic events. Football and volleyball games have already taken place in several counties, including Jackson and Walton Counties. Bay District Schools’ first games of the season are scheduled to start at the end of next week.

The Florida High School Athletic Association's Sports Medicine Committee has issued a set of guidelines for schools to follow when resuming athletic activities.

All schools must require student athletes to pass a temperature check and a COVID-19 questionnaire before participating in team practice or games. The committee only strongly urges districts to require the same level of screening for people who watch from the stands.

The committee also leaves decisions about venue capacity to individual school districts.

In Bay County, school leaders will reduce gym and stadium capacity by half to allow social distancing, said Josh Balkom, the district's executive director of operations.

Spectators won't have their temperatures checked or answer questions about possible exposure before entering the venue, Balkom said. "We’ll have health screening questions posted at the entryway of each stadium, that’s the extent of it."

Game attendees must wear masks before they may enter the stadium, he said. "If you're able to social distance in the bleachers, then you will be able to take off your mask." Spectators will also be prohibited from congregating on the field or in hallways, aisles and other high-traffic areas.

Student athletes can't always practice social distancing, but they undergo regular screenings, he said. "They do that every day," he said. "It’s part of the screening process before they start their workouts."

At practices and during games, athletes are also required to wear masks when it doesn't interfere with their performance, he said. Cheerleaders, for instance, must wear face coverings when doing stunts.

Balkom says the district is also reducing any sports-related travel outside the county, meaning most of the games will take place within the district.

"These are guidelines that are going to be frequently assessed throughout the season," Balkom said. "We certainly plead with everyone to follow the proper protocols."