High school soccer players and wrestlers are now compelled to take mandatory COVID tests each week in order to play high school sports. The decision comes down from the Alaska School Activities Association board of directors.
On April 12, the executive board unanimously approved new rigorous testing requirements, which were not in place during the recent basketball state championships. Under the new policy, all wrestlers, soccer players and coaches will be forced to take weekly and sometimes twice weekly nasal swab tests. Volleyball players and athletes in other sports are not under the new mandate.
Local districts are free to ignore ASAA’s policy, but it comes with a steep price. Failure to adhere will exclude athletes and teams from competing for statewide championships, which ASAA oversees.
The only exemptions ASAA provided are for people deemed “fully vaccinated” or those who can prove that they were diagnosed with COVID-19 within the past 90 days. All other athletic participants, including managers, coaches and referees are bound by the ASAA policy in order to vie for a state championship.
Despite rigorous testing, the ASAA will only allow athletes to unmask during actual competition or practice. Other than that, ASAA requires masks “at all times for all athletes, players, coaches, spectators and anyone else engaged in organized sports activities both indoors and outdoors.”
During actual competition, the ASAA policy says wrestlers “may remove masks only during active matches.” Additionally, the mask policy states that “all participants must maintain six-foot physical distancing when not on the mat.”
Athletes engaged in “high intensity” sports, such as soccer, are not required to mask if they can “generally maintain six feet physical distancing at all times.”
If an athlete tests positive for COVID, ASSA requires them to enter quarantine. They cannot resume competition until the eighth day of quarantine, and only if they have a negative COVID test result by that day. However, even if they do test negative, they must still wear a mask when around others and monitor symptoms for 14 days.
If there are no testing sites available for a quarantined athlete, they can end their quarantine on day 11 if they do not exhibit any COVID symptoms.
School districts around the state began implementing the new testing policy this week.
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The Mat-Su district, which is Alaska’s second largest, is testing athletes at school once a week with rapid antigen COVID tests. A medical waiver sent to parents notes that the district could be required to report positive test results directly to the State of Alaska. Parents also must agree to release the district and the test provider from legal claims, demands or actions that might result from the testing or disclosure of test results.
Reese Everett is associate superintendent for Mat-Su schools. He said each district had a choice of whether to follow ASAA’s new policy.
“In order for any Mat-Su wrestlers or Mat-Su soccer players or soccer teams to be able to compete at the state tournament we were required to have a testing protocol in place,” he said. “Testing is going to open up opportunities for our student athletes to not just have to compete against Mat-Su Borough School District teams because so many other places in the state require proof of a negative covid tests in order for teams to be able to come and safely compete.”
When asked about the fate of athletes who did not want to get tested, Everett said that is their choice.
“Where we’re at right now is that these (elective sports) are different than a student attending school – that idea of a free and public education,” he said. “These are optional opportunities for our students and ASAA has been clear and if our students want to be able to participate, then they need to follow this protocol, and if they choose not to, then that is obviously their prerogative.”
- To contact the Alaska School Activities Association board members, call (907) 563-3723 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.