New Jersey is slowly returning to normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indoor dining has returned at 25% capacity, gyms are open and people are starting to return to offices around the area.
Add high school sports to that list starting Sept. 29.
The last time high school sports were played in the state was March 12, when Ocean City had just defeated Westhampton Tech in the state Group III girls’ basketball semifinals. The spring season was canceled as concerns over the virus continued. Since March, high school fields across the state have sat silent.
Just like everything else related to the pandemic, the return of high school sports has not been easy and will not be easy as games get underway.
The return is not without risk of a potential spread of the coronavirus, but NJSIAA chief operating officer Colleen Maguire said the association has taken the proper steps to hopefully prevent that.
“The NJSIAA’s model for the fall season keeps competition in-state and local, while eliminating statewide tournament play,” Maguire wrote in a letter to the editor. “High school sports are overseen by certified coaches and athletic trainers. Indeed, the controlled environment of high school athletics is one of the safest places for our student-athletes to be after the bell rings.”
Making it back to the field is a team effort. From coaches to players and administrators and even Gov. Phil Murphy, everyone has played a role in the return of high school sports.
Players have shunned parties and other social gatherings as they prepare for the season.
Coaches and administrators have had to deal with a variety of issues including having social distance practices and navigating uncharted territory.
With all Murphy has done throughout the state to frustrate patrons and business owners by not reopening things soon enough, he seems to be singing a different tune with high school sports. Murphy has used his daily COVID press conference to endorse the return of scholastic sports.
Murphy’s role in the return of high school sports cannot be understated.
Over the last couple of months, Murphy has gone so far as endorsing a plan that allowed for high school sports to be played even with remote learning.
“We are making it clear that whether a student athlete is participating in remote learning or in-person instruction, their ability to participate with their team will not be altered in any way,” Murphy said during his coronavirus briefing in Trenton on Aug. 17. “Whether that student is seated in a socially distanced classroom or at their kitchen table does not matter — they are a student at that school, and they can play for that school.”
The return of high school sports was a team effort and a just a small step in the return of towns to normalcy.