The Georgia High School Association was never going to cancel or postpone the upcoming football season months down the road due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Convening Monday, the governing body for high school sports in the state voted to move football’s start date to Labor Day weekend. This means football games will only endure a two-week delay. The season will remain at 10 games with a full playoff slate. Football practices and other sports will start on time.
With 26,197 new cases in the state over the past seven days, it appears the GHSA is hoping, and possibly praying, the guidelines it previously put in place will be enough to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Among the guidelines for the GHSA’s infectious disease plan:
Athletes and coaches will be tested and screened prior to workouts.
If an athlete is experiencing symptoms or has been exposed to the virus recently, he or she will be removed from participating until receiving proof of a negative test along with being symptom-free following a 14-day quarantine.
Weight rooms will be doused in disinfectant before and after workouts each day.
Any equipment used by one athlete must be wiped down and sanitized before another uses it.
Athletes will be required to bring their own water to workouts to prevent sharing and, thus, the spread of the virus.
Even then, those measures might not be enough.
For instance, on the same day the GHSA pushed the starting date of the football season back, South Gwinnett announced it shut down football activities until July 27 due to one student-athlete testing positive and another being suspected as possibly contracting the virus.
This isn’t a situation like the NBA, which has done a commendable job with bubble life in Orlando, Florida. In school districts that plan to have in-person learning this fall, high schoolers will have to go to school, go to practice and then go home, greatly increasing the possibility of exposure and spread of Covid-19 to a family member. For those who will begin learning virtually, the risk is limited to catching the virus at practice (or anywhere else that student-athlete may visit during off hours). And if a player who lives with a vulnerable family member contracts the virus unknowingly, then what?
While younger people aren’t as at risk of experiencing serious complications due to Covid-19, they can still spread the virus to coaches, administrators, staffers, parents and grandparents. Ideally, if the GHSA wants sports to go on as scheduled, it would have the resources to deploy professionals across the state to ensure each school is acting appropriately and in the best interest of the student-athletes and their respective communities.
However, this responsibility is going to fall upon each school district to do the right thing and report results accordingly. All anyone can hope is that each school follows the protocol accordingly.
And even then, a protocol isn’t enough to stop a virus from spreading. When kids are away from practice, schools will not be able to track their movements. And testing comes with its own set of variables, such as false positives and negatives. For example, Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman tested negative two days before coming down with symptoms and a positive test.
It’s reasonable to want high school sports to play this fall while wanting them to occur as safely as possible. A season without high school football could be detrimental to many student-athletes on the cusp of receiving scholarship offers. The importance team sports has for a lot of kids also can’t be overstated enough. People everywhere should want high school sports to take place this fall. Communities are better served when these extracurricular activities take place.
But pushing back the start of a season for two weeks is nothing more than a band-aid. Delegating responsibility to avoid blame in a worst-case scenario is cowardly.
If the GHSA wants sports to resume on schedule and as safely as possible, it needs to be more involved and as proactive as it ever has in its history.
Which, we all know is asking a lot from the GHSA.
The Atlanta Falcons signed all six of their rookie draft picks on Monday, just in time for them to report Tuesday. Those picks were cornerback A.J. Terrell (first round), defensive lineman Marlon Davidson (second round), center/guard Matt Hennessy (third round), linebacker Mykal Walker (fourth round), safety Jaylinn Hawkins (fourth round) and punter Sterling Hofrichter (seventh round).
As the GHSA attempts to keep everything on schedule this fall, it goes without saying that Coffeetown will be playing ball. Let that turkey work!
Freeman, who recently detailed his experience with Covid-19, looks ready to go for Major League Baseball’s 60-game Opening Day.