As practices begin in Clay, district focuses on keeping athletes safe amid COVID-19

Oakleaf football players line up during a spring practice drill last year.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – School just began this week in Clay County and so did practices in high school sports there.

The changes due to COVID-19, like everywhere, are going to take some getting used to for athletes and fans this season.

First, all student athletes will be required to wear a mask as they are setting up and during practice. They can only remove it when they actually begin to play. The mask goes back on when they are finished.

Equipment is sanitized frequently and the district has used electrostatic sprayers to kill germs and disinfect items athletes use or frequently come in contact with, said Clay County district athletic director John Sgromolo.

Other safety measures include a weekly COVID-19 questionnaire and social distancing during practices. The Florida High School Athletic Association voted to allow practices to begin Aug. 24 around the state.

“For example, during a drill while you’re waiting, instead of being right next to your teammate, they keep that 6 feet of distance,” he said.

The most common question he receives is can students who students who have opted to learn virtually still participate in sports on campus?

The answer — absolutely.

“So it’s going to be important to communicate with their athletic director at their home zoned school to let them know that they’re interested in athletics so they can go through the clearance process and make sure that paperwork is taken care of before they get on the field,” Sgromolo said.

When games start at Clay County’s seven public high schools on Sept. 11, fans will notice a big difference, too.

At football games this fall, all tickets will be sold digitally and stadium capacity will be capped at 30% to maintain social distancing measures. The state of Florida’s current Phase 2 of the Re-Open Florida measure limits attendance at major events to 50% of a venue’s capacity. Individual districts can tighten those standards.

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