Area Tennessee high schools are slated to open the football season on Aug. 21.
The coronavirus apparently has other plans.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order on Monday that extended the state’s current State of Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic through August 29. That followed a large spike in numbers in recent days.
Included in the directive was the following: “Limit contact sports with a requirement or substantial likelihood of routine close contact.”
That would, of course, include football, along with girls soccer, which will not be able to begin until at least after Aug. 29. Preseason football jamborees that would have been held a week before the regular season began, but those will also not be played.
Bernard Childress, the executive director of the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association, issued a statement on Tuesday related to contact sporting events and activities.
“While the Governor’s order is in place, member schools cannot have any competition or scrimmage with other schools and cannot have close contact activities during their fundamental practice in the sports of football, 7-on-7 football, girls soccer, wrestling and basketball,” he wrote. “We are in the process of developing regular season and postseason options to present to the TSSAA Board of Control for their consideration.
“The Board will ultimately make the decision as to how this will impact the postseason and if any adjustments can be made to regular season competition.”
The statement added that the ruling applies only to high school sports, and does not apply to collegiate or professional sports.
The TSSAA Board of Control will meet today to discuss various options for the upcoming school year. Among those watching with interest will be Sullivan East principal Andy Hare, whose Patriots began what have been successful limited workouts on June 1.
“It has been sublime, it has been amazing, it has been great,” Hare said. “People have enjoyed it. The spirit and energy is unlike anything I have ever seen since I have been involved in education. I am going into my 22nd year and the positive energy I am seeing right now is the highest I have ever seen.”
Hare had initially hoped for less restrictive rulings after the two-week TSSAA mandated dead period ends on Sunday, but that won’t be the case.
“We will just have to continue doing what we started doing on June 1st and it will just extend out,” said Hare, who added that Sullivan County schools would follow the same plan as both Bristol, Tennessee and Kingsport. “We will all do the same thing on what all this means for starting school and contact sports will be determined based on what the TSSAA says.
“Up unto that point we are going to continue what we have been doing with our workouts and following that same protocol that we have been following.”
Fall sports such as volleyball, golf and cross country were not mentioned in the directive, but Hare said more will be learned about all fall sports in today’s meeting.
Much will be determined by the virus, with cases in the state rising significantly in the past week.
“All this is dependent upon our state and people reversing the curve here,” Hare said. “We are probably worst now than we were at the beginning, to be honest with you, as a state. It is crazy.”
Getting those numbers under control and going in the opposite direction is the definite hope of everyone involved.
“The ultimate goal is the safety of everybody, the health and the well-being,” Hare said. “We don’t want to jeopardize that so we are just begging everybody to follow the protocols that have been set up and the recommendations of the CDC so we can get back to normal as quick as possible. These kids deserve it.”
Hare is, admittedly, a little frustrated by the changes in protocol that schools must follow, while other entities, such as a local summer baseball league that includes players from his school, which live by different rules.
“Our frustration comes from where we can play in an independent league game and there are very limited restrictions,” he said. “But, yet, if we were going to have practice for that same team on our campus we have to follow a very strict regimen to be able to just get together in groups of 10 or less.”
Hare urges residents to adhere to social distancing, wear masks and practice other guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control to allow sports to occur in the fall.
“I guess where we are at as competitors, as coaches, as players, as administrators, as parents, if we feel like we are getting pulled around and we just need a decision,” he said. “If it means things have to get better than I beg everybody let’s follow all the social distancing guidelines and all the recommendations of the CDC so these kids can have the opportunity to play their seasons that they deserve to play.”
Hare echoes the recent sentiments of University of Tennessee Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer, who has told fans of the Volunteers what must be done to ensure football in the fall.
“That is kind of my plea to the public. I heard Phillip Fulmer did that. If you want to come and watch UT play then wear a mask, practice social distancing and we will be able to come watch opening kickoff,” Hare said. “I am the same way.
“It is just frustrating working so hard and getting so excited and they pull the rug right out from under us right when we are getting ready to come back from dead period thinking that we would get to open up our practices a little better.”
If the numbers don’t improve, Hare is concern about the results.
“If it means we have to wait until after August 29 now, we can survive, we can live with that. It is what it is, we will make the most of it,” he said. “We will find a positive in a negative situation, but if we don’t lift the restrictions then that date is going to get extended again and that is going to be devastating.
“I just hope we can get back to normal sooner than later. We will follow the rules that are established until then.”
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