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THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: An abundance of caution, when prep sports return

| May 31, 2020 1:16 AM

I got a call from my friend Spam Risk the other day.

He must be close — perhaps even a relative — because he’s called me every now and then during this coronavirus pandemic.

(Of course, he called quite a bit before all this virus stuff went down too, so maybe he’s just lonely and wants to talk.)

Anyway, he tipped me off that the governor’s four-stage plan to reopen the Great State of Idaho was eventually going to stretch beyond tattoo parlors, indoor gyms, restaurants and the like.

So naturally, I started thinking about how high school sports in Idaho could resume again.

Shortly after proclaiming that the breakfast buffet at JB’s in Meridian will be the first of its kind to open in the state, the governor, according to Mr. Risk, was going to allow high school sports to return — in stages, of course.

Mr. Risk said he had written proof, so I asked him to send me the governor’s four-stage plan for reopening high school sports in Idaho.

A short time later, there it was in my inbox.

I knew the email was legit because it was addressed expressly to “Mike Nike”.

The directive came from the man himself, Gov. Ladd Brittle.

HERE’S HIS plan ...

Football: Teams will open the season playing 6-man football, then increase to 8-man and then 11-man as restrictions are relaxed.

Social distancing will be maintained at all times, especially on the line splits, so at the beginning of the season, the distance between the left and right tackles will be roughly the same distance as between Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene.

There will be allowances made when, say, the ball is on the hashmark — the wide receiver on the short side of the field will be able to line up in Lane 5 of the track to keep the proper social distancing.

Blitzing will not be allowed in the early stages of the plan, as that could lead to gatherings of too many people in one spot.

This applies to cheerleaders as well. For schools which have a large amount of cheerleaders, say at Coeur d’Alene High, the first cheerleader will be stationed right outside the goat barn at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds. The spacing of cheerleaders will stretch toward the football field and behind the Vikings’ bench, looping around the football field, and the final cheerleader will be positioned somewhere near the Sheriff’s Office. Bullhorns will be allowed.

Like churches in the early stage of the state’s reopening, fans will be kept at least 6 feet apart in the bleachers. To help with this, cars will be allowed on the perimeter of the field, much like they were in certain NFL stadiums in the 1970s. Or at certain North Star League fields.

Schools will be encouraged to triple the size of their press boxes, to help with social distancing. Most could use the extra room anyway.

For safety reasons, game officials will be required to wear full protective headgear, with plastic faceguards, much like our heroes on the front lines. This headgear will also come in handy if the refs are suddenly attacked by murder hornets.

Volleyball: Play in the early portion of the season will be limited to two-on-two matches, preferably on a sand court at the beach.

Eventually, play will increase to four on a side, then the traditional six.

Double and triple blocks will not be allowed until the later phases of the prep sports reopening plan.

Cross country: In an effort to eliminate the large gatherings which are typical of this sport, each race will consist of a staggered start. Each runner will start a certain amount of time after the last runner takes off.

If this still leads to too many runners in one area of the course at the same time, meet officials have the option of waiting until the one runner finishes before allowing the next runner to leave the starting line.

Because of this, race directors will be encouraged to begin their meets at the crack of dawn, to take advantage of every available minute of daylight.

The governor concedes this still might not be enough time.

So in the larger meets, the later-starting runners will be issued miners’ hats to help them see the course.

Because of the staggered start, the state meets will begin on their scheduled date of Oct. 31, but won’t finish until around Christmas Eve.

The governor signed off on it.

“Whatever it takes to protect the good people of Idaho,” Brittle said.

Soccer: Early season games will be played 5-a-side, with the hopes — if there’s not a spike in positive tests for COVID-19 — by eventually playing 11-on-11 by the postseason.

If refs feel too many players are gathering in front of the net at one time, corner kicks may be outlawed until later in the season.

Anyone attempting a header will be required to wear a helmet.

Swimming: In the first stage, in order to maintain social distancing between each swimmer, meets will be held in the nearest lake or ocean.

Eventually, meets will move back to the indoor pools, but swimmers will continue to be required to wear full-body suits used by most swimmers in open-water events.

Races might be limited to every other lane.

And, as always, if a Baby Ruth is found at the bottom of the pool, the meet is over.

IT’S NOT official yet, but sources said Gov. Brittle is also working on some preliminary precautions for winter sports as well.

In wrestling, for example, grapplers will compete in full-body rubber suits (Google the love scene from “The Naked Gun”).

Basketball season would begin with 2-on-2 games, then move to 3-on-3 and ultimately 5-on-5 games as restrictions are relaxed. Passing the ball will be discouraged, as the ball would have to be wiped down every time it changed hands.

Reached for comment, the Idaho High School Activities Association said that, in general, it would try to continue to follow the guidelines set by the governor, as well as the State Board of Education.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.