As the nation and world practice social distancing in response to the coronavirus outbreak, that’s meant the shuttering of sports at all levels — including those at local high schools.
All local schools announced the suspension of sports last week as institutions and organizations nation-wide began taking steps to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which began in China in December and has infected over 180,000 people and claimed over 7,000 lives.
Gov. Brian Kemp ordered the closure of all public schools K-12 and colleges through the end of March, but schools within Jackson County had already taken measures to close prior to that action.
Jackson County Schools were the first locally last week to cancel classes and extracurricular activities, including sports, making that call on Thursday (March 12) to close through March 30. Kemp’s action will extend Jackson County’s closure one more day.
Commerce announced Friday (March 13) the closure of school and extracurricular activities through March 20. Gov. Kemp’s action will extend that hiatus 11 more days.
Jefferson announced late Friday afternoon that it would cancel all extracurricular activities through April 6, while keeping schools open four days a week. Jefferson backtracked on the decision to hold classes, opting to close after Monday (March 16) until April 6.
A consensus among spring sports coaches is that they’ve told their athletes to remain active and ready if seasons resume. Coaches cannot direct practices or workouts during this hiatus.
ATHLETIC DIRECTORS ASSESS SITUATION
Athletic directors in Region 8-AAA, of which East Jackson, Jackson County and Jefferson are members, have been working behind the scenes through emails to brainstorm contingency plans should teams return to play this spring.
Jackson County athletic director Brad Hayes said there’s a tentative plan to meet next week to discuss the situation further.
But the fate of the school year will dictate whatever plans, if any, can be made.
As Hayes stressed, “we’re not going to know anything until we know what our school year even looks like.”
Still, informal discussions have included tapering the region schedules, playing multiple games at one location or even holding region tournaments for sports that typically don’t decide their seeding that way.
“What the general consensus in the brief talks we’ve had is is that we need to figure out a way to do it as fairly as possible to everybody involved,” Hayes said.
Hayes was quick to point out that local athletics are at the mercy of whatever the state, GHSA and the school districts decide.
East Jackson athletic director Shawn Lindsey said he’s exchanged emails with his fellow region athletic directors, but like Hayes, said there are several unknowns at this point.
“It’s hard to come up with any kind of plan until we know how long we’re going to be out,” he said.
But Lindsey pointed out that baseball and soccer would be the two sports most impacted in trying to determine region seedings for a state tournament. All the other spring sports determine their state postseason participants through region tournaments or meets. Baseball and soccer base theirs on the regular season, which is being reduced with school closings. Baseball would be more impacted than soccer with Lindsey noting that region soccer teams are playing each other just once this year. As for baseball, one of the ideas being pitched is scraping the three-game series and playing remaining region opponents one time.
“There’s a lot of different ways to go about it,” Lindsey said. “But again, I think every bit of it is going to hinge on what kind of time frame we have to work with.”
Jefferson athletic director Bill Navas said he believes the region representatives from baseball and soccer could be determined with tournaments if needed. Navas said one of the first things to determine is when the GHSA would start the playoffs and formulate plans based on that.
“I think the Georgia high school league would be very flexible with this,” Navas said. “They may even let us extend this into June.”
Commerce principal and athletic director William Smith, similar to the Region 8-AAA athletic directors, pointed to the uncertainty of the situation as the athletic directors of 8-A attempt to address it.
"It’s a lot of stuff in the air,” he said. “It’s such a fluid thing right now … We’re hoping to get this back going at some point. Everybody is hoping that we can get a region schedule set if we can go back and finish the seasons out."
Smith said there’s a mass text thread going within Region 8-A to stay in touch with one another and throw plans out if and when schools get back in.
“Baseball thinks they can play every area team one time whenever we come back,” Smith said. “Three games the first week, three games the next and two games the following week. And whatever the record is is how we would go into the postseason.”
"If it happens — who knows what happens — but we will have spring break plus two more weeks for baseball season, three weeks to get all games in. My coaches think they can do it if that’s the case."
Smith said that soccer “is the weakest in terms of communication with other teams.”
“We aren’t sure what will happen with soccer,” he said.
The longer schools stay closed, the less likely spring sports will resume.
Athletic directors, while understanding the scope of the health problem, said they felt bad that their athletes could be losing their seasons as a result.
“All of our hope is that we are (going to meet and talk) because we hate this for our kids and our coaches right now,” Hayes said. “This is such an unknown and such a new territory for everybody. Nobody has ever been through anything like this.”
Lindsey pointed to seniors losing their seasons, noting that the East Jackson baseball team has eight seniors.
“I hate it,” Lindsey said. “I really do. Obviously, this is a scare for everybody, but I hate that it’s happening. Our seniors, especially this baseball crew that we have right now has eight seniors, and they’ve worked their tails off for a long time.”
Navas, the father of a senior soccer player, said he’s hoping and praying the spring athletic seasons can be completed, noting the success of the Dragons’ spring teams.
“We want an opportunity to be able to showcase our skills, but at the end of the day safety and the well-being of our school and our kids and our community will supersede athletics,” Navas said.