By Carey Phillips

Fall sports athletes at Smoky Mountain were scheduled to begin workouts Wednesday, two days later than the first day allowed by the N.C. High School Athletic Association.

Meeting in a work session last Thursday, the Jackson County Board of Education decided that Monday would be a day for coaches to be trained on NCHSAA restrictions and recommendations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuesday is a day for athletes to attend a mandatory session to be trained on the guidelines.

“This is a great safety measure that our board has taken,” SM Athletic Director Adam Phillips said. “This also gives us a chance to get documentation to our kids on what forms they need to sign.”

The NCHSAA guidelines say spectators are not allowed at workouts. Board members said athletic facilities will be closed to the public during workouts. This includes access to the track at Carr Hooper Stadium/Babe Howell Field.

The NCHSAA shut down all sports in March at the same time most sports were halted nationally. The workouts are voluntary and will mainly be limited to conditioning with no player-to-player contact. Practice for fall sports is set to begin Aug. 1, with games starting in mid August.

“I’m very concerned from a health standpoint,” board attorney Chris Campbell said. “These kids have got to start being active again before they get engaged in any kind of serious workouts.”

Workouts will continue through June 26. They will resume July 6 when the NCHSAA is scheduled to enter phase 2 of its return to play plan. No regulations have been released for phase 2.

Human Resources Director Kevin Bailey, who presented the plan to the board, noted that no more than 25 people may be involved with workouts outside and no more than 10 inside. He said that did not mean 100 players could be on the football field as long as groups weren’t larger than 25. He did say that it might work to have 25 on the football field and 25 on a practice field.

Campbell emphasized the need to follow the guidelines.

“How are you going to feel as a board member when 25 of 50 kids are infected when it could have been 10 or less?” he asked.

“We’ve got to think about the greater good and the kids that they come in contact with,” Bailey said. “The head coach is the one that’s on the hook. This is a big burden on the coaches. It’s a lot of work, but we understand the importance of it.”

The NCHSAA “strongly recommends” the use of face coverings for everyone attending, with the exception of athletes engaged in physical activity.

The board decided to follow those recommendations. However, members said the face coverings would be mandatory in crowded areas, and close contact, such as when mandatory temperature checks are administered before workout sessions.

Shelley Carraway, director of the Jackson County Department of Public Health, will be doing spot checks to ensure coaches are in compliance with the regulations, according to Superintendent Kim Elliott.

Bailey added that if a report of non-compliance is received he will investigate and take appropriate action, if needed.

While athletes are to bring their own water, Bailey said Smoky Mountain will have extra bottles of water on hand if needed. He also said that each sport will be assigned its own restroom.

Even though the NCHSAA is allowing offseason workouts for all sports, Smoky Mountain opted to only have fall sports workouts until July 6.

“I just want to make sure we get this off in the right way,” Phillips said of limiting workouts to fall sports.