Local coaches discuss plan for return to work

Columbia Central’s refurbished weight room will get busy as summer workouts under COVID-19 guidelines are set to start on June 8. Mt. Pleasant and Spring Hill will begin offseason practices then as well. (Photo by Maurice Patton)

By Maurice Patton

High school coaches in Maury County now know when they will be able to begin summer workouts with their athletes, and the COVID-19 parameters within which those workouts can take place.

How many athletes they will have to work with looms as the sticking point.

Chris Poynter, athletics director for Maury County Public Schools, distributed “a plan that is safe and realistic as it pertains to slowly opening our facilities and bringing back our student-athletes/band members to train and practice” to MCPS principals, ADs, coaches and band directors.

The plan allows students — with updated physicals — to “begin training, try-out and practicing for their respective teams” on June 8.

This portion of the startup differs from the guidelines previously recommended by the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association, in which an extension on physicals from the 2019-20 school year was suggested for participation.

“A lot can happen between March and the second week of June,” Poynter said, referring to the last school-related physical activity for MCPS athletes. “These kids have been sitting around since March. To have kids come out in 80-, 90-degree weather and ramp back up that quickly, we think it’s unsafe.

“In this season of COVID, it’s good to have a medical professional look at them. It makes the transition a lot easier and gives everyone that peace of mind.”

Coaches across the county are concerned with the prospects of all their athletes having updated physicals in time for the June 8 start.

“The first thing I did was call and make an appointment for my (children) – for Thursday,” Columbia Central football coach Jason Hoath said. “With every kid in Maury County trying to get a physical in Maury County in a week, I don’t see it as a realistic expectation. But we’re going to do the best we can.

“I understand the reason we’re doing it. You want to make sure they’re ready to participate after not doing anything the last 9-10 weeks. But it’s going to be difficult to get everybody in in a week.”

Poynter, who said priority for practice is to be given to fall sports (football, girls soccer, volleyball, cross country and golf) during the month of June, also said efforts are being made to secure free physicals with local medical providers.

“The logistics of getting 70-75 kids a physical in a week’s time – it’s sometimes hard when we’ve got three months,” Spring Hill football coach Ben Martin said. “But I’m just glad we have some sort of guidelines and have been given the go-ahead to start, to be able to tell our kids something and not look like I don’t know what in the world is going on when they call.”

Coaches will be required to submit their plans for return to Poynter during the upcoming week for approval. Those plans will include practice times and sites, as well as areas that will need to be covered by custodial staff.

Athletes will be expected to maintain social distance and work in groups of nine or less with a coach, with “noticeable distance and separation” between groups, whether working indoors or outdoors. The same athletes are expected to remain together as they move from station to station. Athletes can remove masks during physical activity but are expected to wear them otherwise. No physical contact is to take place. 

“It’ll be a little challenging at first, but I think we can make it work,” Mt. Pleasant football coach Bronson Bradley said. “The larger schools may have more of a problem than us, but I think we’ve got a pretty good plan set forth to go by those guidelines.

“I’m pretty excited … mainly to see the guys. I haven’t really seen them since March 14. I’m just excited to see them and get back in a routine of things.”

That routine will be somewhat shortlived, as the TSSAA-mandated dead period begins June 21 and ends July 4.

“We’ve got to get a plan together, use the space we’ve got to work with and get as much done as we can in the time that’s been allotted for us,” Hoath said. “We’ll do what we can do in two weeks.”

In communicating with MCPS personnel, Poynter was unsure as to how activities would continue after the dead period.

“At this time there are too many uncertainties to explore what the month of July moving forward will look like,” he said. “As we get into the month of June, we will be able to determine if we will be able to remove any of the restrictions outlined for the month of June.”

Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. He can be reached by e-mail at mopattonsports@gmail.com or on Twitter at @mopatton_sports.

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