Mainland vs Egg Harbor Township

Mainland vs Egg Harbor Township annual thanksgiving day football game at Egg Harbor Township Thursday Nov 28, 2019. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association took the first step Friday toward a return to high school sports from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The association announced the formation of the NJSIAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Task Force to provide guidance for the state’s student-athletes to return to athletics as soon and as safely possible. The NJSIAA did not announce any specific steps for a return. The task force consists mostly of medical doctors.

“We remain optimistic that school activities, including sports, will return in the fall — for students’ physical and mental well-being,” NJSIAA executive committee president and task force chair Mary Liz Ivins said in a prepared statement Friday morning.

The task force will work primarily with state schools, the state Departments of Health and Education, and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) sports medical advisory committee.

“The goal of the task force is to identify and implement both general and sports-specific modifications that will be required by NJSIAA member schools,” Ivins said. “In the short term, our efforts will be focused on returning the fall athletes to their sports for the 2020 season.”

The NJSIAA governs most New Jersey high school sports. High school sports have not been played in New Jersey since March 11. The virus caused the cancellation of what was left of the winter season and all of the spring season.

The NJSIAA’s announcement comes a few days after the NFHS released guidelines for a return to high school sports.

Some of the NFHS protocols and procedures are formidable. For example, in phase one of the return, teams can’t use a common ball in practice without disinfecting it after each player’s touch.

Ivins called upon the state’s coaches and athletes to be flexible when it comes to sports returning. She also said a return to school doesn’t guarantee a return to sports.

“For all those with a passion to return to play,” she said, “we ask that you continue your efforts and follow all relevant guidelines, including social distancing and wearing of masks. The fewer cases there are today, the greater the likelihood we will play in the fall. The timing of our return to school will ultimately be determined by the state of New Jersey. It’s possible that some sports will follow different schedules than others.”

Ivins also cautioned against listening to rumors.

“When it comes to high school sports in New Jersey, please reference only reputable information sources” she said, “including New Jersey state agencies, the NJSIAA or the official channels of your school district.”

Ivins is the former principal and president of Notre Dame High School in Mercer County.

The task force also includes: Kathy Whalen of the state Department of Education; Dr. Lakota Kruse, medical director of the state Department of Health, Division of Family Health Services, members of the NJSIAA medical advisory committee, including Dr. Jack Kripsak, chair of the NJSIAA Medical Advisory Committee, Dr. Damion Martins, team physician and director of Internal Medicine to the New York Jets and a member of the NFL COVID-19 Taskforce, and Dr. Rob Franks, a team physician for USA wrestling and team consultant to the Philadelphia Phillies. NJSIAA assistant director Tony Maselli is the NJSIAA liaison.

“Many obstacles remain,” Ivins said. “Hard work, patience and flexibility will be required, and at times some may feel deflated. But I’m confident that together, we will help get our kids safely back in the game.”

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