Local athletic directors envision high school athletes returning to practice fields this summer following a long shutdown for COVID-19, but uncertainty still remains as to exactly when. They don’t, however, foresee fall sports moving from their traditional place on the calendar.
Georgia High School Association (GHSA) director Robin Hines recently released a statement expressing hope for modified summer practices — ones that incorporate social distancing and reduced numbers — at unspecified point in June.
East Jackson athletic director Shawn Lindsey took that as a positive sign, but had hoped to hear more at this point.
“I actually thought we’d get a little more information (last) week, but it seems like they’re still in the planning phase of how we’re going to get things back to going in June if June ends up being the go-ahead,” Lindsey said.
Commerce principal and athletic director Will Smith pointed to news of neighboring North Carolina seeking to start high school sports activities on June 1 as another encouraging sign for Georgia. That news, however, was tempered by the announcement that Riverside Military Academy has cancelled its fall sports schedule, the first school in the state to do so.
Still, Smith is optimistic.
“I am, for some reason in my mind, and I have no knowledge, but right after July 4, after the dead week, I think we’ll be able to (go),” Smith said. “At least that’s my gut reaction. I think that’s when everything will start.”
At Jackson County, athletic director Brad Hayes is hopeful for modified June workouts and a full-scale July based on Hines' statements.
“I know that’s the stance of the GHSA is that we’re ready to get back to normal as fast as we can,” Hayes said.
High school sports in Georgia halted in mid-March right as the NBA cancelled the rest of its season, Major League Baseball postponed its season and the NCAA shut down postseason basketball tournaments and called off spring sports. Jefferson athletic director Bill Navas said Georgia high schools will likely take their cues from the professional and college ranks in returning.
“Once they shut down, you started seeing high schools shut down,” Navas said. “I think now that they’re starting to get back into play mode, we’re going to follow suit from that standpoint.”
Navas envisions training sessions with small numbers with specific protocol for disinfection and hygiene before schools are eventually allowed to work their way back to team activities.
Meanwhile, Smith hopes the end result is a regular start date for fall sports in August.
“I’m expecting the beginning of July will be our first official practice, and we’re going to be right on time in August,” Smith said. “I sure hope so.”
FALL SPORTS MOVE UNLIKELY, ADs SAY
The athletic directors generally dismissed the idea that fall sports might move to anywhere else on the school calendar, citing logistics.
“Early on, we heard some colleges talking about that kind of stuff,” Lindsey said. “But nobody has really given that as a serious thought that I’m aware of — at least they haven’t talked to me about it — as far as moving it around the calendar. I think that’s going to be tough if they end up doing that.”
Navas, too, doubled that scenario. He said he listens to a lot of sports talk radio where the idea has been pondered.
“I’ve heard the conversation,” he said. “I’ve heard about that happening, but I don’t know that it’s going to happen. That would be really hard to do with a school calendar.”
Smith had similar feelings.
“That seems like it came across two or three weeks ago, and I don’t think it’s even possible for that to happen,” he said. “I really don’t.”
He added that smaller-enrollment schools, like Commerce, would struggle to share athletes if fall sports were moved to another part of the year.
Instead, Smith sees a worst-case scenario (barring a total shutdown) where fall sports start a couple of weeks late with reduced schedules or region-only schedules possibly. But Smith said he’s not told his fall-sports coaches to make changes to their regular-season schedules.
Lindsey said his coaches "are holding tight with the schedules we have now." But he said he’s seen discussion of shortened fall seasons with reduced non-region schedules as a scenario.
“But that's all speculation," Lindsey said. "We’ve all sat around and speculated so much. I’m tired of speculating. I’m ready to get something going.”
Conditioning of athletes remains a concern whenever things do get going. Athletes who played a spring sport have been shut down for over two months, and those who didn’t have been out even longer.
“When you stop development for any period of time over seven days, you start to regress,” Navas said. “You look at we’re two months into this, we haven’t had any development, and our coaches have to be really smart … they’ve got to take care of the basic fitness.”
Hayes has stressed a proceed-with-caution approach for his coaches. He said the initial return of activities “should really just be about re-acclimation.”
“We don’t want any injuries because of this,” he said. “The bottom line is most kids are going to come back to us in the worst shape they’ve been in in a long time.”
He also said non-fall sports coaches may have to get by without much summer work with their athletes.
“The big thing for the summer is just talking to coaches about, ‘Look, if you’re a winter or spring sport, you might not get to see your kids this summer,’ and if you do, it needs to be pretty limited so that the fall sports can get rolling,” Hayes said.
With uncertainty over when high school sports will get the green-light, athletic directors have told coaches to be ready with multiple plans.
“We are planning our return back,” Navas said. “They have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D because they don’t know what tomorrow is going to hold in terms of athletics.”
Similarly, Hayes has asked his coaches to plan for a mid-June start, a July post dead-week start and a possible late-July start.
Lindsey noted that summer time work could be very limited.
“We talked a little bit about summer schedules and being prepared for June, and if June got cancelled, what would our July look like and how we would share athletes for the one month as opposed to two months,” Lindsey said. “You end up losing a lot of time.”
But he said his coaches are just ready to return to work with their athletes, whenever that happens.
“As a coach, being involved with those kids on a regular basis, when you take that away from them, you almost feel a little lost. It’s like, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’" Lindsey said.
Smith has encouraged Commerce coaches to stay in touch with their athletes as much as possible while everyone remains in wait-and-see mode.
“Not so much as a coach, but just as a mentor for them to understand what it takes to be safe and what it takes to sort of be responsible for yourself,” he said.