By Maurice Patton
With Governor Bill Lee announcing during a Tuesday press conference that he will sign an executive order and allow Tennessee high school football and girls soccer to begin regular-season play as originally scheduled, the work doesn’t end.
“What people don’t need to do now is relax,” Bernard Childress, executive director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, said regarding the exemption Lee issued in light of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month, Lee’s COVID-19 State of Emergency executive order categorized high school football and girls soccer as high-risk contact sports and limited their activities, while allowing similar sports at the collegiate and professional levels to continue, within the guidelines set by their governing bodies.
At that time, Childress expressed a commitment to work with the Governor’s Task Force to convince that group that the TSSAA could come up with a set of guidelines that would “mitigate” the risks of competition and allow those student-athletes – after seeing Division I basketball and spring sports end early — to have their seasons.
“We’re able to do things as planned, but I don’t think we’d have been able to do things as planned without working with their team and letting them know we’re going to do all we can to mitigate risks around practice and games,” Childress said.
During last week’s TSSAA Board of Control meeting, regulations were adapted for the 2020-21 school year in an effort to keep all participants as safe as possible.
“(Lee) released us because of the work that’s been done and the promises that have been made and the guidelines that have been set,” Childress said. “We’ve got to do them now.”
Officials at the local level are hyper-aware of their responsibilities along those lines.
“We definitely are appreciative of Mr. Childress and the TSSAA for all their hard work and leadership,” Columbia Academy athletics director Pernell Knox said. “This is great for our seniors. I remember seeing our seniors in the spring and how devastated they were, and we definitely didn’t want to go through that again, so this is great for all involved.
“Now is where it gets tricky. We have to do an even better job of making sure our coaches and kids are doing what they need to do as far as following protocols and everything we can to keep not only our kids safe, but our opponents safe as well.”
Once Lee signs the executive order – within the next 24 hours, Childress said Tuesday – football and girls soccer programs can begin preparations for beginning regular-season play the week of Aug. 17.
Football teams were allowed to begin the heat acclimatization process last week. All players must spend two days of practice in helmets only and three in helmets and shoulder pads before going in full gear. The football postseason will begin Nov. 6, with the BlueCross Bowl state championships set for Dec. 3-5 at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium in Cookeville.
Girls soccer state tournament play is scheduled for Oct. 28-31 in Murfreesboro.
Cross country, golf and volleyball were unaffected by the initial executive order.
“It’s exciting for the kids, for the coaches, for everyone involved,” Maury County Public Schools AD Chris Poynter said. “There’s still a lot of questions (about) what it will look like fully implemented. But we appreciate those parameters and protocols we have to execute.”
Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or on Twitter at @mopatton_sports.