Football Begins Practices and Games With COVID-19 Guidelines

Menlo%27s+varsity+football+team+began+practice+in+January+with+masks+on+and+no+helmets+or+pads%2C+before+receiving+equipment+in+later+February.+Photo+courtesy+of+Pam+Tso+McKenney.

Pam Tso McKenney

Menlo’s varsity football team began practice in January with masks on and no helmets or pads, before receiving equipment in later February. Photo courtesy of Pam Tso McKenney.

Adam Karr, Staff Writer

When one thinks of social distancing, football likely does not come to mind. Dozens of players on top of each other may seem like a recipe for disaster in a pandemic. However, as Menlo begins the process of reopening the campus and athletics, the high contact sport has resumed for the first time in over a year with added safety requirements to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Such measures include required COVID-19 testing, masking when not wearing helmets and frequent hand washing and sanitizing. 

“Before athletes enter the field, athletes must have a negative COVID-19 test within seven days, their green One Medical badge and their POM,” Head Athletic Trainer Aubrey Fennell said. Once athletes have shown their POM — a device that collects data when close to other POMs to help with contact tracing — and their green badge, Fennell and Assistant Athletic Trainer Stephanie Swan check in athletes according to their Blue or Gold cohorts in order to help with contact tracing should someone test positive. 

High school football players often have to share equipment, from footballs to weights. “When it comes to shared equipment, we have split the athletes into three groups. Athletes must use hand sanitizer before and after entering the field, and we have multiple electrostatic sprayers to disinfect equipment,” Fennell said. 

“One of the highest risks right now is the time spent not in masks in close contact with each other during play,” Fennell said. “We are requiring athletes to wear Menlo neck gaiters when playing with helmets, so when the helmets come off, athletes can pull up their masks easily,” head football coach Todd Smith said.

In early March, the Athletics department gave t-shirts and neck gaiters to athletes. Football players are required to wear either those gaiters or a mask at games and must wear them whenever their helmet is off. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov. (Pete Zivkov)

Neck gaiters are not as effective as surgical or even cloth face masks, according to MIT Medical. Still, they are better than nothing. 

Both the varsity and junior varsity football teams played their first games against Hillsdale on March 20, and certain requirements have arisen regarding games. “Depending on the school, testing requirements will differ, but for Menlo, we will continue to require tests within seven days because we have had such a low positivity rate for COVID-19,” Fennell said.

“For games, we will have the same requirements regarding masks as practices, so when helmets come off, masks come up,” Smith said. 

Not only have high school sports begun to reopen, but club sports are also allowed to do so to a degree. “Menlo has decided that athletes can play both club and school sports,” Fennell said. Athletes are no longer forced to choose between school or club sports, assuming that the sport is allowed in their current COVID-19 tier.

In addition to Menlo’s requirements, the California Interscholastic Federation also has its own guidelines for football. For example, there will be three-game footballs, and games will operate on a rotation where when a ball goes out of play it will be sanitized before being used again. 

“For me, the biggest factor in staying safe is what people do off the field, such as avoiding large gatherings and masking and physical distancing in public spaces,” Fennell said.