Steve Savarese on “Return to Play”

May 23, 2020

It has been a challenging spring to say the least for AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese. For a man whose phone rings a lot and is expected to have all the answers, the uncertainty of the Covid-19 world has changed his job. He should be giving out spring championship trophies now but instead must lead Alabama high school athletics through unchartered waters as schools return to play.

On Thursday, the AHSAA issued guidelines allowing teams to return to workouts beginning June 1st. Savarese has been in close contact with State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey, state health officials, the Central Board of the AHSAA, as well as his own sports committees made up of coaches. His job puts him out there in the middle somewhere, writing guidelines, encouraging safety and common sense, but at the same time occasionally trying to get people to just pump the brakes a little and slow down. The Covid-19 road conditions can change daily.

“I am excited about our coaches and athletes returning to their sports,” Savarese said. “We have said from the beginning our decisions would be based on the best current information. Dr. Mackey has been a great communicator through all of this, and I am glad that we can finally have a plan to move forward.”

Savarese says that this is a situation where you have to work backward. The goal is to have all sports start their fall seasons on time, and we must slowly develop our teams and teach them how to live in the Covid-19 world of today. “There is just going to be a new normalcy and everyone is going to have to make some sacrifices,” the director said. “We need to take a slow, methodical approach. We have 8 weeks to get our teams ready, and I believe that is enough time to prepare them properly.”

Savarese says that as schools, teams and coaches look at the current guidelines, there are three rules that will help them navigate this new landscape and organize their workouts.

  1. As much as possible, practice physical distancing of six feet. If you want to talk to everyone as a group, they need to be standing 6 feet apart.
  2. If your activity doesn’t allow you to practice social distancing, wear a mask. Groups are not limited to a certain number as long as athletes are wearing masks.
  3. Before and after workouts-clean. Everyone should wash their clothes after each workout. Keep everything as sanitized as possible.

Savarese said that it is important daily to continue to teach athletes how we must work in the present Covid-19 environment. Developmental sessions early about proper hygiene and cleanliness guidelines will be important in educating players. “In this world, you can’t blow whistles right now. You might have to use a horn to start a practice,” he said.

The AHSAA website has forms online dealing with symptoms of the virus. “Coaches need to be very aware of these, and follow state health policies should an athlete show some symptoms.”

The elimination of summer competition was important element in keeping a static group. Groups mixing together was just to risky under the circumstances. “You can still do 7 on 7,” Coach Savarese said. “You just have to do it with your own team members.”

Current physicals are good until the first day of fall practice for each team, whether that be July 27th or August 3rd. A student who does not have a current physical must have one prior to starting June 1st. Athletes must have the 2020-21 Concussion and Consent forms signed and on file prior to summer workouts. “The new forms have a virus update included”, Savarese said.

The hope of the AHSAA is that when all the factors and data are evaluated at the end of June, that some of the requirements might be lessened as we move into July and toward the start of the fall seasons.. “Our whole goal is to do what we need to do now to get us to the fall,” he said.

The average athlete will return to campus the first week of June with less conditioning and heal acclimatization than in many years. Savarese cautions coaches to take a conservative approach, especially in the beginning. “We must keep an eye on the big picture and create a safe environment for our athletes.”

Coach Savarese and the AHSAA understand that no one can tell what is beyond the next Covid-19 hill, but they must be ready to adjust with the changing road in front of them.

The AHSAA director believes that when teams finally return to competition, it will be an important day for all of us in the state. “I believe that one of the best things that will happen from all of this is that we will all learn to appreciate our blessings.”