KSHSAA Board of Directors vote to start winter activities on time

Topeka Capital-
Shown is Lansing junior wrestler Camden Maestas.

The 2020-21 Kansas winter sports season won’t have the exact same look as years past.

But after appearing to be in partial jeopardy of even being held at all because of rising COVID-19 concerns and following a proposal sent forth last week by the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s Executive Board, the season will indeed begin on time. And in large part it will resemble seasons past.

At Tuesday’s special KSHSAA Board of Directors meeting – one that lasted four hours – the 2020-21 season was given a green light to begin as scheduled next week. By a 53-22 vote, the board of directors approved a modified revision to the schedule that greatly reduced the limitations outlined in the original proposal by the Executive Board and afford every school in the state the opportunity to enjoy a complete winter season.

The mantra of “Let Them Play” that resonated across the state after last week’s KSHSAA proposal was made hit home with the 78-member Board of Directors, which is made up of representatives of every league in the state as well as a number of other entities.

“It’s so important and every person on our staff and every person on our board believes in the value of interscholastic activities,” KSHSAA executive director Bill Faflick said. “Their mission is not just words on paper, it’s about preparing kids to be successful. ... Our board believes it’s appropriate to have competition immediately and we’re ready to go.”

The original proposal moved forward by the Executive Board last week called for the winter sports season to delay competition in basketball, wrestling, swimming and diving, bowling, debate and scholars bowl for all of December, though practice could occur during that time period. Following a practice moratorium from Dec. 23-Jan. 3, practice would resume on Jan. 4 with competitions beginning Jan. 15.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Dec. 23-Jan. 3 moratorium was approved but the season around it was greatly altered from the original proposal. An amendment proposed by Olathe North principal Jason Herman to allow competition to start in December as scheduled, continue through Dec. 22 and then resume Jan. 15 was approved 44-25. The board then approved a second amendment proposed by Mill Valley principal Jerald Van Rheen that altered the resumption of competition in January from Jan. 15 to Jan. 8, by a 41-24 count.

The amended motion then went to vote and easily passed 53-22.

“I’m pleased that the system works and it shows that it works that there was very specific action items that needed to be addressed and the membership had the opportunity to weigh in through their representatives,” Faflick said. “I’m pleased that kids will have the opportunity to participate. I’m pleased that those learning opportunities will be a part of their reality. Anybody that’s involved with education is concerned that we’re doing our part to make sure we’re working toward a healthier Kansas and making sure all mitigation protocols are being followed. Because that’s what it’s going to take, everybody doing their part moving forward.”

The decision at the high school level also applied to middle school activities, many of which have already begun and would have had to suspend their seasons mid-stream.

In addition to approving the slightly altered competition schedule, the board also passed restrictions on holding large in-person invitational tournaments during the season (59-15 vote). High school and middle school basketball tournaments can be held with no more than four schools playing concurrently, while wrestling events are limited to no more than eight teams or 112 individual participants.

However, the board did not place restrictions on the maximum number of events that could be held per sport. An item to reduced the basketball season to 13 games was amended to allowing the current maximum of 20 games and then approved 66-7 while items to reduced the number of competitions in wrestling, swimming/diving and bowling were voted 69-2 to not take action on.

While the allowance for winter sports to continue pretty much as previously scheduled was widely well-received, the other major action the board took was met with far more mixed response.

The caveat to letting the kid plays is that almost nobody will be there to watch them.

By a 50-26 vote, the board approved an item that calls for events to be held without spectators from Dec. 1 until Jan. 28. At that time, fan attendance will be limited to allow for appropriate distancing for the facility and in accordance with local admission and attendance policies.

The debate among board members was greatest during this item discussion with many in support of allowing fans and others seeking a uniform direction from the KSHSAA.

An amendment to allow no more than two spectators per student participant was proposed by Burlington principal Stacy Reed and went to a vote, but failed 46-29.

While largely unpopular among parents in particular, the different applications of fan limitations across the state during the fall sports likely played a role in Tuesday’s vote for a uniform mandate by the KSHSAA.

“It has been emotion and emotional every time there’s been restrictions put in place where people haven’t been able to attend contests involving their kids, alma mater or favorite school,” Faflick said. “We’ve seen that through the fall. But something’s not working because community spread is continuing. ... We’ve got to start somewhere. Can we dial it back eventually? Certainly that’s a possibility. But right now the board has deemed that the cleanest, safest way to do this based on what doctors are saying is this is primarily a disease that is spread through adults and their interactions and if we can limit those interactions we will be better for that.

“It takes some of the burden off the schools to have that uniform policy and knowing this is the expectation whether I’m home or away, league game or non-league game. It’s not going to be well-received and will cause a lot of concern for our parents and school communities.”

Faflick said the spectator policy could be revisited by a special board meeting prior to the expiration of the current mandate on Jan. 28.

“Every decision we make is continually assessed and re-assessed and this will be one of those where we monitor the data and monitor the response of our member schools,” Faflick said. “The reason this meeting existed was we had a number of member schools contact us and say ‘We need to be considering this.’ There needed to be decisions made in regard to attendance policies, competitions and moratoriums. ... That balance between benefit and risk is what we will continue to evaluate and that assessment will be ongoing.”

Prior to the board votes, a public forum allowed eight people to speak to the board in three-minute increments. Many spoke in favor of allowing the winter season to occur as close to regularly scheduled as possible.

Among the points made included:

  • “There is no evidence to suggest that kids are either superspreaders or very susceptible to this virus to begin with,” Craig Holtzen of Louisburg said among three points in his presentation. “I would dare go far enough to say that kids are practicing better better virus protocol when they are in school or activities than when they are locked down.″... Fall activities were largely successful because of our ability to be flexible and adaptive to the many changing things that happened over that season.”
  • “Canceling only competitions but still allowing practice rests on a point of contradiction,” said Chanute’s Kellen Adams. “Our focus should be on minimizing risk while also keeping every practice and competition in line with that. Create a plan, communicate that plan and then execute that plan when appropriate.”
  • “It seems like we’re taking a group of people who are not at risk and putting a significant punishment on them for people who are at risk and won’t take the precautions necessary,” said Sean Wheeler, a sports medicine physician in Overland Park who cited studies at both the collegiate and prep level. “I’m not sure that putting restrictions on these kids does anything to help them.”
  • “We’re in the fourth quarter now,” said Dr. David Smith, University of Kansas Health Systems and team physician for the Kansas City Royals. “We had spring, summer, fall and now winter. I will predict we will have overtime because this is not ending. The data is clear we are not ending this soon despite the promising vaccines that are coming through. With that said, the sports advisory committee stands firm in recommending that one compromise we can make is hold off on competition, but all winter sports to start. I agree we need to have students doing something, they are much safer practicing than out there doing whatever else they choose to do. With that said, risk mitigations must be followed. ... If we are going to proceed with winter sports, we must adhere to risk mitigations properly.”