After more than two months of no activity due to the coronavirus outbreak, high school teams throughout Loudon County have been cleared to return to practice in a limited setting.
Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association board of control decided in April to allow individual counties and school systems to give teams the green light on when to return.
Lenoir City Board of Education and school administrators with Lenoir City High School agreed May 19 to reopen all athletic facilities and allow teams to return to practice Tuesday.
“We’ve already kind of talked about the comprehensive high school decision and plan, you know, we started putting together our plans and protocols for the chance to come back in May,” Jeff Cortez, LCHS co-athletic director and head football coach, said. “We had the opportunity to present our plan at the school board budget meeting on (May 16). It was a good meeting and presented our thoughts. Everyone got their own copy of the guidelines and then Dr. (Jeanne) Barker and our school board chairman Rick Chadwick signed off on it.”
Loudon County Schools announced May 20 that teams would also be allowed to return Tuesday, but Loudon High School administrators prefer athletic activities resume June 1.
Ronnie Roberts, LHS athletic director, said this week will be used for planning and education on how to best return and keep everyone safe.
“We’re going to use this week more as an educational week, and none of our teams are actually going to have any kind of participation, practice, drills, whatever you want to call them,” he said. “We’re going to use this week to give out information to parents concerning waiver forms that are going to have to be signed. A lot of our hope is that the second phase will help us the next week and maybe be under less restrictions the first week of June.”
Teams still have the option to start back this week but will have to limit group settings to 10 or less people per practice.
“We had a coaches meeting Friday with a lot of the coaches that normally do a lot of things during the summer during this time of year and kind of laid out, ‘If you want to start next week, these are the guidelines that you’re going to be under’,” Roberts said. “They’re very restrictive, and we just kind of felt like it’s best if we use this week to kind of educate everybody on how this change is going to look maybe and actually start June 1 with any kind of participation.”
Greenback School will take an approach similar to Loudon and gave teams the green light to return Tuesday.
“We met with the coaches Thursday after we had our meeting with central office and the other athletic directors in the county, and I gave our coaches the guidelines the county has developed in accordance with (National Federation of State High School Associations) and (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” Jessica Spafford, Greenback athletic director, said. “I told the coaches it’s entirely up to them, but if they wanted to wait later, that’s totally up to them.”
Coaches across the county will be responsible for enforcing safety guidelines. All teams will be required to check an athlete’s temperature prior to practice.
“We’re not going to make anyone do anything they’re not comfortable doing, but if you decide to come back, before a kid starts practice we’re going to have a temperature check,” Cortez said. “Anything 100.4 and higher, they’re going to go home immediately.”
Coaches will look into splitting players into small groups during practice to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Parents and guardians are encouraged to remain in their vehicles while picking up their child from practice.
“For a sport like football, right now we’ve got nine groups of nine that are going to come through the school at various times of the day. Every sport will be a little bit different,” Cortez said. “These nine guys for the next four weeks, they’re going to train together, and that way, we’re not increasing exposure rates. It’s going to be the same nine kids at the same time to train. We’ll be cleaning equipment between each session, so one group uses our equipment, we’re going to spray it for the next group to come through.”