August 18, 2020
If school districts can meet COVID-19 health and safety measures, the upcoming fall high school sports season in New Jersey can go forward as planned.
The state is committed to the "health and safety of our communities and a desire to see our kids be able to play for their teams if it can be safely managed," Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.
The final decision for the upcoming season will be made by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which is planning how – and whether – fall sports can take place, Murphy said.
A decision is expected later this week from the NJSIAA which already has implemented a three-phase practice ramp-up for fall sports.
"The NJSIAA is taking seriously the need for protecting our school communities, and will only pursue a sports schedule if they feel the proper health and safety requirements can be met," Murphy said.
Given the decreased risk of COVID-19 transmission outdoors, Murphy is encouraged that most fall sports can responsibly occur outside. That includes football, soccer, cross country and tennis. He added that athletic fields allow for social distancing among parents, spectators and student-athletes on the sidelines.
However, Murphy said that he doesn’t believe indoor fall sports can take place as planned, which would put girls volleyball and gymnastics in jeopardy.
"I hope that changes by the time the bulk of the inside sports come around again," Murphy said. "I say that with a heavy heart toward girls gymnastics, girls volleyball, which that's an NJSIAA decision, but even in that case, you hope to see something postponed as opposed to canceled."
Student-athletes participating in remote or in-person learning will be able to take part in high school fall sports, Murphy said.
"Whether that student is seated in a socially distanced classroom or at their kitchen table does not matter," Murphy said. "They are students of that school and they can play for that school.
"Now, some districts have already given notice that their teams will not be taking the field or lining up at the starting line, as is their right, and we are not going to overrule them. But for every school that does give their teams the go ahead, we don't want any student athlete to be shut out based on whether or not they are physically in their school building."
State officials previously approved youth sports to resume through a multi-step process amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Non-contact organized youth sports, such as golf and tennis, were permitted to resume in June as long as they followed social distancing measures.
Medium and high-risk sports were initially restricted to modified, no-contact workouts. Programs and leagues had to ensure that participants could remain at least six feet apart. Traditional practices and games resumed for medium-risk sports, like baseball, basketball, softball and soccer, in July.
High-risk sports, such as football and wrestling, resumed workouts and competitions late last month. High school sports began resuming practices in early July too.
Indoor sports remained prohibited.