By Maurice Patton
As summer workouts for Tennessee high school football teams gear up under local COVID-19 restrictions, squads in Maury County are still on hold.
“Right now there’s not been a decision made,” Maury County Public Schools athletics director Chris Poynter said of plans for Columbia Central, Mt. Pleasant and Spring Hill to commence activities. “Our leadership is discussing a plan to reopen. Hopefully that will take place by the end of the week and we can let everyone know what the plan is for reopening and returning to athletics in Maury County.
“We’re still reviewing all options. The central office is reviewing the plan in its entirety and making sure it’s all buttoned up before we release it to athletic directors, coaches and the public to let them know what our course of action is going to be.”
By rule of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, programs cannot begin summer workouts prior to the final day of the previous school year. Tuesday was scheduled to be the last day for MCPS, though that day has differed for other systems across the state.
“When you see pictures of Alcoa and Maryville – they’ve been going for a week,” Mt. Pleasant coach Bronson Bradley said. “Over in West Tennessee, Peabody and Union City have been going for over a week. Those are championship-caliber teams, and they’ve been leading the way. There’s a reason they’re championship-caliber teams.
“Other coaches are calling and telling me what they’re doing, asking me what we’re doing, and we’re not getting any guidance. The lack of making a decision is what’s aggravating me the most.”
Teams were forced to improvise for spring practice in light of the pandemic, but no one was able to hold on-field workouts – leveling the field for everyone from Memphis to Mountain City. With some programs able to get their summer workouts started quicker than others, the frustration mounts for Bradley.
“When everybody’s in the same boat, missing spring practice wasn’t so bad when everybody in the region (5-1A) was missing spring practice,” he said. “Now that it’s getting fired back up, everybody in our region is starting June 1.
“It’s affecting Columbia and Spring Hill as well. I’m sure those coaches feel as frustrated as I do.”
Raiders coach Ben Martin concurred.
“I’ve been inundated with (social media direct messages) and text messages and phone calls and I don’t have anything to tell ‘em,” he said. “We’re at the mercy of the district. I understand this is unprecedented, that none of us has gone through anything like this. I understand they want to err on the side of caution. But it’s very concerning that other districts are being allowed to come together and starting and we’re not being able to do that yet.
“My biggest concern is, we basically spend June, three weeks in July and three weeks in August getting these kids ready to play. If that time is significantly cut down, I worry about the safety of our players. We have a lot of kids that have to go both ways, and it does take quite a while to get those kids in football shape to play. You hope they’re in shape and taking advantage of the workouts we give them at home, but I’m not naïve enough to believe that.”
Whatever plan comes out of the MCPS office — which will likely address the fall sports of cross country, girls soccer, golf and volleyball as well as football — is expected to have little to no input from the coaches expected to implement it.
“It’s obviously out of our control,” Central’s Jason Hoath said. “They’re meeting about it, figuring out the best possible plan for the safety of the players and everybody involved. We’re all anxious to get back to work soon.
“It’d probably be good if they had everybody’s input. Football, girls soccer, volleyball – I know those are being affected, and each of our needs are different.”
Neither Columbia Academy nor Zion Christian have a clear path to a restart in place, either.
“We’re really waiting; the administration is trying to figure out what they want to do,” Zion coach Brad Lowery said. “We can’t do anything till after May 22; that’s when school is out for us. We could start in the weight room after that.
“After the dead period (June 21-July 4), hopefully we’ll be able to do everything, get back at it on the field.”
CA athletics director Pernell Knox said a tentative target date for the Bulldogs to begin workouts would be June 1.
“I want to talk to the coaches, make sure they’ve got a game plan, make sure we talk to the parents, make sure we’ve got the ample cleaning supplies,” he said. “I want to do all the research I can to make sure it’s safe for our kids and our coaches.”