In the states bordering Missouri, the majority of high school athletic programs are gearing up to take fields and courts for the first time in more than five months.

It’s still clear that questions remain, and opinions different.

“There are a lot of questions and there’s not any cookie cutter answers,” said Jason West, communications director for the Missouri State High School Activities Association.

As a follow-up to recommended guidelines released last month and many school districts across the state changing plans for learning in the fall of 2020, the state association is looking at possibilities for fall activities with practices set to begin Monday, Aug. 10. A release Monday by MSHSAA states it’s currently working with schools in areas where virtual learning has been required and recommendations have been made against sports.

“With the changing face of the start of the school year for our member schools, the board and staff want to discuss possibilities that would allow as many students to participate as safely as possible,” said MSHSAA Executive Director Dr. Kerwin Urhahn in a statement. “The association wants to work with schools to provide as many opportunities as possible. For the schools currently planning to start the year as normal, our current hope is that the fall season will proceed to its fruition.”

No schools in northwest Missouri have opted for a fully virtual fall, but it serves as a change of tone to districts making that decision. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, approximately 20 school districts in the St. Louis area have already decided to move to online-only classes to start the school year. Previous MSHSAA guidelines would rule those schools ineligible to compete.

“The bottom line of what the association wants to have happen is allowing as much participation as possible,” West said. “What we don’t want to have happen is something like we had in the spring at the end of basketball season where things got canceled. There may be some non-traditional ways that participation may happen this year, but we’re hoping to see as much participation as can happen.”

In Kansas, schools that opt for virtual learning can remain active in athletics this fall — a stance currently differing from MSHSAA. Nebraska was the first state to play football during the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this summer, while Iowa just wrapped up summer seasons for prep baseball and softball with few issues.

Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee haven’t announced changes to the fall sports calendar, while Kentucky is delaying its fall and condensing the season.

In Illinois, ‘high-risk’ sports will be moved from the spring to the fall.

While Missouri has been steadfast in playing high school sports, discussions by MSHSAA leaders this week will offer a wide range of ideas. According to MSHSAA, the postponement of fall activities could be brought to discussion, with other topics including the ability of schools only offering distance learning to still participate in activities, as well as possible regional competition outside the traditional season once a school is offering in-person learning.

“Nothing’s been ruled off the table and changes may need to be made as more information becomes available,” West said. “We’re kind of at that spot now. In mid-June, there was a lot different scenario than what’s taking place right now.”

MSHSAA has been in contact with other states in the region to gauge how activities will be handled. Missouri schools are scheduled to begin practicing August 10 and hold competitions August 28, a plan that is still intact one week out.

But, as West said, “nothing’s off the table.” With college campuses possibly opting against holding large championship gatherings, MSHSAA could be forced to look for alternative sites. Moving a fall sport to the spring would also put a hindrance on dual-sport athletes and force teams to possibly lose student-athletes, an issue rarely dealt with in college, with other interscholastic activities also to account for.

“The hardest part right now is not even knowing if you can get off the ground. Right now, we’re just hoping to make it to August 10 but knowing there may be more changes coming,” West said.

“That’s the most difficult part right now — coming up with a plan and saying, ‘This is the plan. We can’t change it.’ We can’t do that right now.”

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