ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla — The roar of the crowd under Friday night lights is something people have been waiting for for months. It’s game day but it won’t be the same way they’ve done it in years past.
High school football is back as of Sept. 4.
"In the heat of battle when you are going into huddles, again there is social distancing," says St. Joseph's Academy's Athletic Director Sherri Nowatzki. "Coaches will have masks on. You just try to adhere the best you can.”
Adhere to the FHSAA’s protocols that is. The FHSAA lists football as a high risk sport for COVID-19 because of the close contact.
Nowatzki says they are following every guideline from masks to temperature checks. Coaches go through a COVID-19 symptoms check list at every practice. Nowatzki says they can do more as a smaller school.
“That may be a competitive disadvantage," she jokes, "The numbers are lower so they can spread (athletes) out a little better.”
The FHSAA has recommendations on how to conduct sports in a safe way during the pandemic, including a student responsibility waiver. It explains COVID-19 and warns athletes and their families of the risks including long-term effects and death. If you sign on the line, you’re accepting responsibility for your health by choosing to play anyway. Nowatski says their athletes all had to sign one.
Social distancing isn't possible on the football field, but there will be restrictions in place in the stands. Many school districts have crowd restrictions in place.
Duval and St. Johns Counties will be at 30% capacity, and St. Joseph's will be at 50%.
Even fans should prepare to have their temperature checked and to wear a mask during the game.
“I think we will figure this out as we go, but you know, the school spirit and the optimism I think is at a plus under the circumstances," said Nowaski.
As for the athletes, she says they're excited. They've only been back at practice for about two weeks. She says safety comes first and the first game will be a trial run on their current protocols.