By JESSE SMITHEY
Thursday was supposed to be a decisive day for Knox County Schools (KCS) athletics, concerning what student-athletes were going to be allowed to do during summer preparation months.
But that meeting between school athletics directors and a few KCS officials got postponed. No make-up date has been released.
Nevertheless, the decision at hand is obviously one centered around kids’ safety in regards to the Covid-19 pandemic. And that decision, from an athletics standpoint, will either put some Knox County student-athletes behind their peers in regards to preparing for the 2020 seasons or keep them in step with those from surrounding counties.
The TSSAA passed along a memo to all its member schools on April 22 giving them guidelines for the summer, and the association hasn’t deviated from that directive.
Once a member school’s 2019-2020 school year officially ends, that member school is to, on the following day, keep following the TSSAA sports calendar in preparation for their respective 2020-21 sports seasons — as long as those preparations are also in total adherence with CDC guidelines and as long as their respective school systems/districts are allowing them to gather.
Translation: it’s up to the school systems around the state — not the TSSAA — to call the shots on when their respective teams can begin workouts, as long as it abides by the TSSAA calendar and CDC guidelines on Covid-19.
In Blount County, the Maryville and Alcoa football programs will begin workouts early next week, Alcoa on Monday, May 18, and Maryville on Tuesday, May 19.
Alcoa athletics director Josh Stephens said they will obey all group-size limitations and social distancing measures in keeping with CDC guidelines. Each person’s temperature will also be taken with a non-contact thermometer reading. Any player or coach whose temperature is 100 or greater will be sent home.
Maryville football coach Derek Hunt echoed the same measures that Stephens outlined.
Anderson County and Sevier County are tentatively scheduled to start workouts around June 1. In West Tennessee, programs like Milan, Union City and Peabody began their workouts last week, according to the Jackson Sun.
But the debate that exists is: what if Knox County Schools decides to delay this portion of preseason preparations until early July, when the TSSAA dead period ends? Won’t that create a skew or imbalance between KCS athletes and those from its competitors and surrounding counties?
And could that make it dangerous for KCS student-athletes, who didn’t have a spring practice and who may not have done much or any individual conditioning in May or June, to begin practice in the extreme heat indexes of July?
So Knox County Schools definitely has a weighty choice on its hands. And a few athletics directors from Knox County told 5Star Preps that they believe Knox County Schools will ultimately announce that their student-athletes not return to on-campus facilities to work out until early July.
TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress told 5Star Preps on Wednesday afternoon that the current plan still stands and that the association won’t make a blanket requirement of all its members to begin their summer workouts on the same day.
Childress has been convening virtually, however, with select superintendents from around the state to get input on their short-term plans. One of those meetings actually took place late Wednesday afternoon.
The purpose of those meetings is for the TSSAA to get all the input it can in order to construct its plan for a start to its 2020 fall seasons.
“One of the things that we know is: they have been updated on Wednesdays on a weekly basis by the state department of education as to what the beginning of school could possibly look like and when,” said Childress. “We are trying to get some information from them 0n what they’re hearing and share with them what we’re working on in terms of returning-to-play guidelines for our member schools.
“Our national sports medicine advisory committee is set to meet on May 16. They are going to, at that time, talk with the national office after that meeting about guidelines on returning to play. Then, all 50 states will meet virtually with the National Federation (of State High School Associations). We’ll take that information and continue to work on our guidelines.
“But the thing we felt is very important, before we put out anything, is to get the input from the directors of schools — and even the schools that are independent schools — on what their plans are. Because we all want to be on the same page. The TSSAA does not want to put something out there, as far as a return to play is concerned, that even one superintendent or one director of school looks at and says, ‘We’re not doing that.’
“We’re trying to get on the same page with them, so that when we do release something that it’s uniform and we all agree that this is how we’re going to proceed. Nobody knows. We feel like we have a little time on our hands right now. Nobody knows what that’s going to look like because it’s changing daily. But I do know, when that occurs, we all have to be on the same page.”
The TSSAA hasn’t shown its cards yet on what the fall sports seasons could look like.
The state high school association in Georgia is contemplating a model that would see all of June wiped off but with football preseason beginning July 6.
Per a report by WJCL in Savannah, Ga., this plan would give players five days of heat acclimation practices. Beginning July 13 and extending through July 24, teams would be allowed to work out in helmets, should pass and shorts for two hours per day and then be allowed full pads on July 27.
Scrimmages in Georgia would be Aug. 6-15 and the regular season would commence Aug. 21. The TSSAA football season’s Week 1 is supposed to begin Thursday, Aug. 20.
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association created a Covid-19 dead period for its member schools that will expire June 1.
The NCHSAA felt it was proper to keep all its members in a consistent preparation pattern as they moved towards the summer months, according to a story by highschoolOT.com.
But the NCHSAA’s post-June 1 plans have not been detailed publicly.