When Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signs Executive Order No. 55, which he said Tuesday he will do soon, it’s full speed ahead for high school football.
The order, which includes TSSAA member schools in an exception to contact sports restrictions, means the high school football season will begin Aug. 21, which was the original plan.
A contingency plan was approved by the TSSAA last week that would have allowed the season to begin Sept. 18, but that’s out the window now. Area teams are expected to begin full contact practice as soon as the order is signed.
Covington head coach J.R. Kirby was shown a Twitter post yesterday that reported the news.
“I didn’t believe it at first so reached out to some sources,” Kirby said. “When I saw it was real I was pretty pumped. When I told the kids they were going to get their opener against Munford they were pumped … The intensity was a little different at practice Tuesday. Now we’ve got something to play for and things aren’t up in the air.”
“This is good news for many kids and their families,” TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said, “but the reality is that the virus will continue to be with us and we have to be smart about taming the spread. Every adult and every participant in every sport must do their part and follow the guidelines set forth by TSSAA and the governor’s office to help mitigate these risks.”
Guidelines include sanitation practices, fan social distancing, temperature checks and no scrimmages, but other than that things will be back to normal at high school football facilities with season openers scheduled in less than a month.
Kirby and Munford coach Slade Calhoun are on board with the plan.
“I can only speak from my experience,” Calhoun said. “We’ve been working out, conditioning and what not since May 26. We haven’t had one kid with a fever. We haven’t had one kid test positive. We’ve been practicing five days a week for the past two or three weeks. They’re there for weights and practice three or four hours a day. We’re very cautious, now. If somebody shows up with a cold or a runny nose, I’ll send them home. If I hear a kid cough I tell them they can’t come back. We’ve had some kids quarantined. That’s a long way around of saying that I feel that this age group is pretty safe. For some reason the kids aren’t getting it. If they are they’re asymptomatic.”
“You’re going to have people with their opinions and different views,” Kirby said. “My thing is if you don’t want to come to the game, you can watch it on YouTube. People have to make the best decision for them. About 95 percent of the team has been here and the majority of parents are behind this.”
The season opener between Covington and Munford, which is at Covington this year, always draws an overflow crowd. That won’t be the case next month.
Steve Maclin, the Tipton County Schools athletic director, said staff members are deciding how to manage crowds at games.
The TSSAA has issued regulations that instruct schools to limit fans at sporting events to allow for social distancing. The regulation says one-third or one-fourth of capacity would be appropriate. Fans will have to wear masks and have their temperature checked before entering the stadium.
“We’re not sure what the restrictions will be, but there will be some,” Maclin said. “We will have something in place soon because we have to.”
He said the idea of requiring fans to pre-purchase a limited amount of tickets and not allow walk-up fans is on the table.
In the meantime, football teams, as well as girls’ soccer teams, which were restricted by the ban, will prepare for an abnormal season as normally as they can.
“They’re excited,” Calhoun said about his players. “I’ve told them we had to move forward like we’re playing Aug. 21, and now we are … I’m glad that we invested some extra time. I know I’m excited. It was going to be a drag to practice until the 18th.”
There are several teams from the Shelby County school system on Munford’s schedule. It was recently announced that SCS students will begin the school year completely virtually, but Calhoun said he believes the SCS teams on his schedule – Southwind, Kirby, Ridgeway, Overton and Kingsbury – will play football.
“There’s a big difference between putting 2,000 kids in a school building indoors than 50 or so teammates being outdoors the majority of the time,” Calhoun said. “Around my kids, and I’ve been around them since May, I feel pretty safe.”
“We’re going back to doing what we do,” Kirby said. “We have a football game to get ready for. Standing six feet apart ain’t going to happen Aug. 21 against Munford. It’s not. When that order is signed we’re going to get after it like we’re getting ready to play. I think that’s the mindset you have to have … You can live in fear all your life or go on living. I choose to go on living. That’s what we’re going to do.”