The headline on the news release summed up the state of high school sports in New Jersey: “It’s game on!”
The NJSIAA, which oversees high school athletic competition in the state, on Thursday unveiled a plan to proceed with fall and winter sports during the coronavirus outbreak.
The plan, created by the NJSIAA’s Sports Advisory Task Force, calls for the start of practice for fall sports such as football, soccer, cross-country, and tennis on Sept. 14, with games set to begin in early October.
Indoor fall sports, such as gymnastics and girls’ volleyball, will be moved to a new season that will begin with practices Feb. 16 and competition on March 3. The guidance also sets Dec. 3 as the starting date for practices in winter sports, with games to begin Dec. 21, and includes plans to “maximize the spring season” to account for the lack of competition in spring sports in 2020.
“Our kids need structured activity, and we believe that education-based high school sports is the best way to provide it,” NJSIAA chief operating officer Colleen Maguire said. “Giving teenagers extra motivation to stay COVID-free promotes healthy outcomes for everyone.”
In a statement, the NJSIAA noted that “schedules will be condensed, competition will be local, out-of-state competition will be prohibited (unless a waiver is granted for exceptional circumstances) and postseason play will be limited and local, with no statewide championships.”
Football games are scheduled to begin Oct. 2. Heat acclimatization can begin for football teams on Friday, Sept. 11.
The football regular season is scheduled to run for six weeks, ending Nov. 7. The football postseason, which the NJSIAA will seek to open to any team that wishes to participate, will be held the weekends of Nov. 13 and Nov. 20.
Seeding committees will be formed to create playoff fields, reducing the reliance on power points and other formulas.
“Just excited for the kids,” Seneca coach Bill Fisher said in a text message. “What they’ve had to go through — nothing has been good — this is the first good news they have had in six months!”
Soccer, field hockey and cross-country also will have shortened postseasons that will end the weekend of Nov. 20.
The statement did not address spectators, although current New Jersey guidance limits outdoor gatherings to 500 and encourages people to maintain social distance.