Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackey said the words so many athletes, coaches and fans have been waiting for since the high school season shut down in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic: There will be high school sports this fall.

We will have extracurricular activities, Mackey said Friday morning in a joint press conference with state health officer Dr. Scott Harris. “They will look different. We are still working through that.”

Extracurricular activities include the fall sports and activities of football, volleyball, cross country, cheerleading and marching band.

Sports were shut down March 14 as the novel coronavirus pandemic forced Gov. Kay Ivey to declare a state of emergency and order people to stay at home.

Athletes were allowed to return to campus June 1 to begin summer workouts, and Mackey’s announcement Friday meant the season will start as scheduled.

The first day of football season is scheduled for Aug. 20.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association has been working very closely with us,” Mackey said. “Executive Director Steve Savarese and I talk multiple times a week about things he is hearing from other states, things I’m hearing from other states, things we are getting from Dr. Harris and his team. We are working through safer protocols.”

Some of those protocols would include cleaning equipment as often as possible, limiting the number of people allowed on the sidelines for football games and possibly extending the team area to allow for increased social distancing.

Mackey didn’t mention playing games in front of empty stadiums but did say social distancing in crowds could be enforced, as it was with many graduation ceremonies across the state.

Can you social distance or physical distance the crowd? Yes,” Mackey said. “There are ways we can do that. We saw that with graduations where families stay together, but they were 6 feet away from the next family. All across the state we saw that. There are ways we can make our athletes and stadiums safer for competition.”

The AHSAA released a statement Friday noting it is reviewing the State Department of Education’s Roadmap to Reopening Schools.

We appreciate Dr. Mackey and his staff for their tireless efforts,” Savarese said in the statement. “I am looking forward to working with school administrators and with the AHSAA Football and Fall Sports committees, which meet July 7, in addition to the Alabama Football Coaches Association on July 8, to discuss the ALSDE Roadmap and the ADPH guidelines. The AHSAA will continue to study and produce ‘Best Practices,’ and will present the recommendations to the Central Board at its July 22 meeting. The AHSAA is looking forward to hosting the Kickoff Classic at Cramton Bowl, which kicks off the 2020 football season Aug. 20-21.”

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