State health officer addresses high school athletics

Very few spectators are wearing masks at the Southestern vs. Leeds game. -Jeff Sargent

Prior to State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey’s mandate issued Monday, very few spectators at games across the state wore masks. Mandates requiring them at all school functions as well as limiting the number of spectators went into effect Tuesday, Dec. 15. Susan West, principal of Southeastern, said she welcomed the stronger mandates and implementation went well for the first game under the new guidelines. “We want to keep them safe first and foremost. We want them to have the opportunity to finish out this season. For that to happen, we have to limit the number and we have to wear our masks.” -Jeff Sargent

Teams across the county (and state for that matter) continue to battle quarantines and COVID-19 (theirs or opposing teams) as coaches scramble to reschedule games and hope their teams can get back on the court sooner rather than later. The postponements, cancellations, rising COVID-19 cases, and very high number of quarantined student-athletes caught the eye of Alabama’s state health officer Scott Harris, who finally addressed the issue last week.

In a Dec. 11 letter to State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey, Alabama Independent School Association Executive Director Michael McLendon, and Alabama High School Athletic Association Executive Director Steve Savarese, Harris addressed concerns the Alabama Department of Public Health has regarding high school athletic events.

Harris wrote, “I request your assistance in seeing that the following is shared with your respective schools’ superintendents, principals, and athletic directors. For the benefit of our communities, health care systems, student athletes, and athletics spectators, the Alabama Department of Public Health reiterates the importance of continued compliance with paragraph 11 of the current Safer at Home Order and the Department’s ‘Guidelines for Adult and Youth Athletic Activities’ (both documents can be found online at

“Further, due to the recent sharp increase in prevalence of COVID-19 in Alabama, the Department strongly encourages the following additional measures be implemented… For indoor sports, to help facilitate social distancing, and to reduce the potential exposure to COVID-19 by large numbers of people, the total number of spectators be limited to less than 20 percent of usual occupancy…

“Hosting schools make a public announcement at the beginning of each game, and during intermissions, reminding all spectators to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between themselves and persons not in their household, and to keep their face coverings or masks on at all times while in the athletic venue…

“If a sporting event participant or official is diagnosed with COVID-19 within two days after an event, the opposite team and officials be contacted to determine the need for quarantine among individuals in that group… Additionally, the Department requests our athletic associations encourage and empower sporting event officials to delay the start of an event or suspend competition whenever spectators are not complying with social distancing guidelines or proper wearing of face coverings or masks.”

On Monday, Savarese shared the recommendations of Harris and ADPH in a memo to superintendents, principals, athletic directors, and basketball coaches. He stated, “The AHSAA expectation has been and continues to be that member schools comply with current ADPH recommendations and guidelines, and the State Health Order. We greatly appreciate your compliance with the aforementioned health recommendations thus providing a safe environment for all in attendance at winter sport athletic events.”

Mackey also addressed the issue with superintendents across the state “In regard to athletics, as I have said many times, I am very concerned about the advent of winter sports — mostly due to the large indoor crowds they can attract… Effective immediately, this [20 percent occupancy] is to be considered an operational rule for our winter sports programs (implementation must begin no later than Tuesday, Dec. 15, …

“The other items outlined in Dr. Harris’s letter are also vital to protecting the health of our students and school communities, and I am strongly encouraging you to implement all the items in his letter as strong preventive measures, which will help us provide the most safe, full winter sports program possible for our students.”