BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ — For Gov. Livingston High School athletic director Ann Clifton, all the preparations and digestion of special guidelines has made getting ready for the revamped 2020 scholastic fall sports season "like five years condensed into two months. We are in completely uncharted territory. You are given the framework and you have to color in the lines."
Normally, teams would be into their second or third week of the regular fall season by now, but the NJSIAA overhauled the fall athletic calendar to deal with the challenges of COVID-19, delaying the start of and also condensing the length of the fall season.
Next week, the Highlanders are scheduled to open their girls tennis, field hockey, boys and girls soccer and football seasons. All the teams had to go through a 2 1/2-week blackout period at the beginning of this month in which they could not participate in any physical in-person practices. Everybody has been back on the field getting ready for their seasons since Sept. 14.
"This whole playbook isn't written," Clifton said of compliance with all the state, board of health and NJSIAA regulations.
"It's been going well," Clifton said. "It's been a lot of planning and time and effort and cooperation from parents and student athletes, but everyone has been doing a phenomenal job. Parents have been so understanding about following protocol. We feel we really are in this together. We follow the NJSIAA protocols to the letter of the law, and work in cooperation with the board of health. We have a good team of experts we can lean on. Our student athletes and coaches feel a sense of safety. Parents understand the time we have put in to make it safe."
Will those parents now be able to actually attend the games that their kids will be playing this fall? Right now, the answer appears to be yes.
"Game day protocols will be shared with the administration for approval, but we hope can provide tickets so parents can come and watch their kids play," Clifton said. "Along priority lines, senior student athletes' parents should get to see their child play. We will allot tickets per program and let team parents dispense them. We also want their peers to get to see them play. We will do ticket sales for football. For other sports, parents will get a card allowing them to attend. As of right now, all sports besides football, the athletes on the field, the officials, anyone part of the field of play do not count toward the outdoor limit of 500 people gathering. But the band in football in the bleachers, they would count."
Spectators to events will have their temperature scanned upon entry and will be required to wear masks. Athletes participating in action will not be wearing face masks.
The sidelines during football games will look a lot different, with players allowed to stand anywhere between one 10-yard line and the other. For all sports, Clifton said that the school has created distance lines on the spectator side so they may stand along those and be at a safe distance from one another.
"We will also have chairs for student athletes 6 feet apart, and two desks at midfield for statisticians," Clifton said.
For football, she said, "Our press box is very small. We will keep that a very secure area, and we will allow two opponents coaches and one photographer atop the press box. We will have an announcer."
After spring sports were canceled entirely in New Jersey, fall sports are being approached with a sense of cautious optimism.
"If we can get out and we can play, they know how fragile this situation is, and we feel, just give us one game," Clifton said. "It has been a long time since student athletes have been able to compete. It has been very nice to see them outside and have some sense of normalcy. That has meant a lot to the entire athletic department.
"I was out on the field the other day, and to hear the laughter at practice, it just sounded like normal, and that's a good place right now. They are giddy to be back out there getting ready to play."