PIERRE — Figuring out how to allow athletes to compete in a close contact sport, like wrestling, during a pandemic was just one of the challenges faced by the South Dakota High School Activities Association board of directors at its meeting Wednesday, Nov. 4.
“Wrestling is going to give me ulcers and turn my hair gray,” according to SDHSAA Executive Director Daniel Swartos who explained the recommended rule changes for winter sports. “In general, it involves items surrounding the event and not the event itself.
Working from guidelines offered by a 29-member task force of educators and medical professionals, the board approved rule changes for wrestling, gymnastics and basketball.
The 22-page document detailing the recommendations of the task force can be found on the association’s website at sdhsaa.com.
In the task force recommendation, sports were judged as high risk or moderate risk. Basketball and gymnastics are moderate risk sports and wrestling was deemed high risk.
In its recommendation, the task force offered mandatory, optional and impermissible rule modifications. Mandatory rule changes must be followed, optional rule changes may be used by school districts and impermissible items are not allowed by SDHSAA rule.
All mandatory rules call for social distancing whenever possible and team benches reserved for players only.
Among the mandatory rules for each sport is a notification of exposure: “In the event a competitor tests positive for COVID, schools shall notify the school of any competitors of the positive individual during the previous 48 hours and inform them of the positive test and exposure. Participants who test positive are expected to be forthright in the close contact investigation and inform those completing the investigation of close contact with teammates and people on opposing teams.”
Basketball mandatory rules state that there will be no pre-game meeting between officials and team captains and no post-game handshakes. Officials will be at least six feet from a player on throw-ins. Basketballs used in the game will be sanitized and not used in warm-ups.
One of the mandatory rules for wrestling calls for developing “pods” in which athletes and coaches interact only in that group.
“The intent is to have common practice partners,” Swartos said, to help ensure precise contact tracing. He said coaches, if they go from pod to pod, should instruct wrestlers verbally rather than physically demonstrate moves with the wrestlers.
Referees will no longer perform skin checks or grooming checks, leaving that assignment to athletic trainers or school nurses. Headgear must be cleaned between each match with no tape allowed on the headgear.
Swartos said the idea of not allowing wrestling tournaments was considered, but eventually rejected. Schools with small wrestling rosters would find it hard to find opponents for duals, Swartos said.
The recommendation for wrestling tournaments is to limit them to a maximum of 112 participants from no more than 12 schools. If girls’ wrestling is included in the tournament, it will be limited to 24 participants.
“We hope that allows those schools with small roster sizes to continue to compete,” Swartos said.
In gymnastics, the mandatory rules call for competitors’ gym bags to include a reusable cloth face covering; grips, wristbands and any braces used in practice; hand sanitizer; disinfectant wipes; athletic tape; a personal water bottle; shoes; and a gallon freezer bag with chalk for personal use. Everything in the bag is to be disinfected after every practice.