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High school football returns with different look

While the IHSAA provides guidelines to teams, protocols for keeping athletes and fans safe is left to each individual school district.

INDIANAPOLIS — High school football kicks off in Indiana Friday night; the second season played in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

But despite the summer surge in new cases, you won't see the same health precautions you saw under the Friday night lights last year, when attendance was limited and masks were required.  

"I think the most important thing is we made it thru last year. We learned a lot last year," Indiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner Paul Neidig said. 

Unlike last fall, there's now a vaccine, though the number of Hoosiers fully vaccinated is just below 52 percent.

While the IHSAA provides guidelines to teams, protocols for keeping athletes and fans safe is left to each individual school district. Neidig said this year there are still no handshakes before and after the coin toss, with masks simply recommended.

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While some districts, including Warren Central, have gone to only selling tickets online to keep tabs on attendance, Neidig said IPS is the only district he knows of that's capping capacity, at 50 percent. IPS also recommends masks when social distancing isn't possible and requires athletes to sign a COVID-19 risk acknowledgment.

"We've learned now within the year we're not going to have a magic date when COVID goes away, "Neidig said.  

In fact, just a half-dozen or so teams had to cancel their first games because of COVID. Shenandoah High School is one of them. The district went to e-learning Monday after nearly 20% of the students tested positive for COVID.

"We can't go home, we can't wait for this to pass, because it's not going to at this point," Neidig said. "We need to figure out how to live with it and move forward."

That said, the delta variant is a growing concern, given how contagious it is and how it's spreading among children. Neidig said the IHSAA knows things could take a turn quickly.

"We've adopted the philosophy last year that a two-week window is our decision-making window," he said.  "We're not looking beyond that, because we know things are going to change."

What they don't know is when and what that will look like. For now, Friday night football will continue.