Topeka Public Schools to tip off basketball season

Published: Dec. 3, 2020 at 8:31 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - USD 501′s basketball teams will be able to tip off their seasons soon.

The Topeka Public School District’s Board of Education decided Thursday night to allow competition to move forward. Teams began practice, but play was on hold while district leaders further studied the county’s COVID-19 situation. Topeka High, Topeka West, and Highland Park high schools will miss Friday’s scheduled season openers, but pick up Tuesday, Dec. 8.

The board will receive an update at its Dec. 17 meeting, and could revise its decision then.

Participants will have to follow restrictions. Under USD 501′s plan, all 501 athletes and coaches from both teams, as well as officials, will wear masks at all times, including while playing. Teams will be limited to 10 athletes per team, and no more than two coaches, with only five people on the bench at a time. Each venue will have one trainer, no more than three referees, and no more than a three-person table crew.

Some board members - including Dr. Richard Bonebrake and Dr. Michael Morrison - suggested a new COVID-19 rapid testing pilot program announced earlier in Thursday’s meeting could be utilized as a tool in ensuring a safe return to play. Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Anderson said the number of tests will be limited, and they want to ensure priority is given to high-risk students and areas. She said further information on the program is being gathered, and it may be possible to include athletics in the planning in the future. Topeka High School principal Rebecca Morrisey noted the idea has merit as a way of more quickly identifying a student-athlete who may symptoms or exposure posing a risk to others.

Morrissey also talked about enforcing players to wear masks as well.

She said, “(Masks) are going to provide a protection for someone who is asymptomatic because that mask protects everyone else from you. So if I’m wearing a mask, I’m protecting everyone from me.”

Board members also asked how schools would enforce opposing teams wearing masks. Topeka West High School principal Colin Cathey, who’s also the district’s athletic director, responded that if an opposing team refuses to wear masks, they will not play them.

“Whether it’s at our place or their place as long as community spread is in the red that would be the stance we’re going to be taking this winter. Is that both teams will be wearing a mask or we will not play,’ he said.

Members of the board said it is not an easy decision and after talking with members of the community, they see both sides of the argument. They want to have their players on the court competing and they want teachers and parents to be safe.

Board Member Rev. John Williams and others said they reluctantly want to move forward with the proposal. Emphasizing the importance of cautiously starting competitions and continuing to learn more about a rapid testing program.

He said, “I see it on both sides. I’ve talked to parents like Ms. Stuart-Campbell said. A lot of them have some compelling points, but I don’t think that we’re really gaining anything by delaying them from playing.”

Any athlete who has made the team and opts out of practice or competing will have a spot on the team when community transmission reduces and the student’s family chooses to return.

Cheerleaders, dance teams, and pep bands will not participate in the games for now. The board will discuss at its January 7 meeting whether they will take part in games after January 12.

Also, in accordance with a decision from the Kansas State High School Activities Association, no parents or other fans will be allowed at the games until the end of January. For games after January 28, the number of fans allowed will depend on the county’s COVID scorecard. KSHSAA’s board also voted for a longer break from competition over the holidays.

District leaders said all games in the school’s main gyms would be live-streamed on the NFHS network. However, some board members pointed out the service requires a monthly subscription fee, and wondered if arrangements could be made for a free live stream, ensuring access for those who might not be able to afford it.

Wrestling remains on hold for now.

The Board also approved restrictions for fine arts programs. In-person band, choir, and theater performances will not be allowed when the district is in remote learning. Performances of lower-risk groups, such as orchestras and drum lines, may take place outdoors only, with appropriate masking, distancing, and other safety protocols in place. Small group rehearsals will be allowed, using 50 percent of rehearsal space capacity, wearing masks, utilizing social distance, and limited to 30-minute sessions.

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