While much of the island’s focus has been on safety and curbing the spread of COVID-19, there’s a large section of the population anxiously eyeing the positive count each night and awaiting the go-ahead for organized sports.

A recent executive order from the governor’s office outlined the policy on non-organized, contact physical activities and sports. The order specifically states certain activities are permissible; however, organized competition, tournaments, leagues and events that break the 25-person rule are not approved.

Among the island sports fans anxiously awaiting word on sports are the thousands of children who suit up for their respective school teams. However, with the recent outlining of the orders, it’s clear that interscholastic sports or any organized sporting event is still far down on the priority list.

During a recent working session on school safety and readiness between Guam Department of Education officials and members of the Guam Education Board, interscholastic sports and the department’s plans to address that need came up in discussion.

Student safety is paramount

GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez reiterated the focus on student safety and that all plans presented are projected and dependent on several factors, including getting the approval of Department of Public Health and Social Services when the island as a whole is ready.

With safety as a top priority, Fernandez stressed that the school system will need Public Health’s “explicit authorization to move forward” with any plans regarding organized sports.

Emphasizing the fluidity of the situation and the need for adjustments as needed, acting sports program coordinator Al Garrido laid out the general framework for the department’s plans for sports.

The official start of first-quarter sports is July 27, Garrido said, noting that is not a possibility at this time. But, discussions have already started as to ensuring athlete and public safety when sports do resume.

Strict protocol

“If we get the authority, there will be a strict return to practice, return to games” guideline that will be followed, Garrido said. Geared towards a proactive approach that followed national guidelines and research, GDOE held work sessions over the past few months with coaches and athletic directors that covered multiple aspects of the game – fan safety, temperature checks at games and practices, handling equipment and mandating instruction for all stakeholders to ensure they understand protocol.

Sports were identified as low-, medium- and high-risk depending the amount of contact off the ball. All high-risk sports – such as football, basketball, rugby and wrestling – were immediately put into second semester, Garrido said.

Based on that assessment, first-quarter sports will include low-risk sports, such as girls’ volleyball, baseball, cross country and tennis. Garrido noted some of these sports – cross country and tennis – have already been allowed under government guidelines to promote health and safety.

Second quarter sports is tentatively listed as girls’ softball, track and field and boys’ soccer.

While the rotation listed changes the whole system as far when sports have been traditionally played, Garrido said, the focus is on ensuring the public school athletes get a chance to compete.

The school system and athletic directors, Garrido said, are prepared to “adjust any way we need to provide a sense of normalcy for our athletes with the utmost consideration for health and safety.”

The framework and the thought processes behind it got nods of approval from board members Maria Gutierrez, James Lujan and John Burch.

Gutierrez assured Fernandez the department would be given the flexibility to make decisions as needed. Some questions raised during the work session involved testing and screening for athletes prior to practices and games.

As far as temperature checks and screening, Garrido said those are all considerations. Safety is paramount, he stressed, adding guidelines will be in place as needed.

As for testing, Fernandez said the department would follow up on the feasibility and the availability of supplies needed to make that a reality.

Applauding GDOE for thinking ahead, Lujan reiterated the responsibility to students in the public school system, and any decisions made will be with welfare in mind.

Garrido echoed that sentiment in a message sent to The Guam Daily Post.

“All plans are projected ideas, with nothing confirmed,” he said. “All decisions will be based around the safety concerns of our student-athletes and not until we get authorization from the governor, Public Health, the board and the superintendent.”