By Carey Phillips
The N.C. High School Athletic Association took no action at its Board of Directors meeting last week regarding when or if summer workouts for fall sports may begin as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The NCHSAA Board of Directors discussed the COVID-19 crisis at length,” a statement issued by the NCHSAA says. “We remind our schools, coaches and teams that we are acting as if we are in a ‘dead period’ for all in-person activities. These restrictions remain in place until further notice. Virtual communication and activities to maintain relationships within teams is encouraged, but no in-person activities are permitted.”
The statement goes on to say that it is “premature to speculate on a return date and whether or not the fall season will be impacted by COVID-19. We will continue to listen to the advice and mandates of our state’s governor, Department of Health and Human Services, and medical advisors to inform our decisions going forward. Any decision made by the Board of Directors and staff at a future date will be guided by those sources of information, erring on the side of health and safety. We will do our part to ensure health and safety for all of our athletes, coaches and communities.”
Ricky Brindley, Smoky Mountain’s football coach, has kept in touch with his players while school has not been held since the first week of March, the week before spring break.
“I’ve been able to communicate with them,” he said. “A majority of that has been through Messenger maybe four or five times a week. I’m making sure they are getting the workouts and checking in on them. I’ve been talking on the phone with a few of them. They are continuing to try to stay as focused as they can under the circumstances.”
The coach said some players have been going to teammates’ homes for workouts.
“We’ve got a few kids who have a home gym set up,” Brindley said. “A handful of them are able to get their lifts done to the best of their abilities.”
NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said at a news conference last week that if football practice starts Aug. 1 as scheduled, then the season should begin on time even if there have been no summer workouts. That’s an assessment Brindley agrees with.
“Back many, many years ago there wasn’t a lot of workouts going on and they were able to start playing in August,” he said.
As for cutting the season back to eight or 10 games if practice doesn’t start on time, Brindley said there has been “just general conversation but nothing that has any merit to it.”
At the news conference Tucker mentioned the possibility of “playing fewer games” if practice doesn’t start on time.
The Mustangs are slated to open the season Aug. 21 at Robbinsville.
Several professional sports leagues and college sports administrators are discussing playing sports without fans. That would be extremely difficult in high school since revenue from football games is so important to the entire athletic program.
“It would destroy our budget,” Brindley said. “Everyone is well aware from a high school athletic association standpoint the role that football plays in funding every other sport other than basketball.”
“High schools playing without fans obviously is never what we would envision,” Tucker said at the news conference. “It would be financially devastating. Football in many and most instances helps pay the bills for some of the other sports. It’s a lifeline for many of our programs.”
Tucker said she could envision a scenario where spectators are allowed but their numbers are limited.
“Would it pay the bills totally?” she asked. “Perhaps not.”
Another idea that has been tossed around is moving football to the spring.
“That gives you an opportunity to prepare on a different level from a time standpoint, but I prefer things to stay the way they are ,” Brindley said.
He said he has “tried to keep out of my head” the thought that there might not be a football season in the 2020-21 school year.
Brindley feels it is important for high school athletics to return as soon as possible.
“I think we all realize the importance athletics plays from a community standpoint,” he said. “I know how that brings communities together and keeps kids in school. If they start talking about canceling athletics, you’re looking at a whole range of issues.”