High school football and girls soccer programs throughout the state are breathing a big sigh of relief after Gov. Bill Lee’s order that will allow the fall sports season to start as originally scheduled.
Lee signed Executive Order No. 55 on Friday, which allows all Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association member and non-affiliated schools to resume physical contact in practices for football and girls soccer.
There will be no changes to the 2020 football schedule with the order in place. The contingency plan for football passed by the TSSAA Board of Control on July 22 stated that if contact practice could resume prior to Aug. 4, contests would not have to be rescheduled.
That leaves the kickoff date for football at Aug. 21 with state championships to be held Dec. 3-5 at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville.
“Children across the state are counting on us — school administrators and coaches — to proceed with practices and competitions safely while being very mindful of the requirements and modifications that we have put in place,” Bernard Childress, TSSAA executive director, said. “Our return to play is a partnership, and it’s important for everyone to do their part.”
Football and girls soccer teams have not been allowed to have physical contact in practice this summer due to Lee’s prior order that extended through Aug. 29.
Football teams were allowed to begin the heat acclimatization period July 20. Each athlete must complete heat acclimatization — two days of helmets and three days in helmets and shoulder pads — before practicing in full equipment.
“The governor lifted the order, but TSSAA rules were not to start full pads until Aug. 3,” Greg Ryan, Greenback head football coach, said. “We haven’t done anything physically because we’ve still been kind of under the umbrella under the executive order. We got to run some routes and throw some balls and talk a little bit and do some individual work. We did some sprints, and it’s very obvious to the guys when they had on the shoulder pads and helmets ... you could really tell the monkey jumped on their back early when we’re running, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Teams will have three weeks of full practice to prepare for season openers Aug. 21.
“At least the kids are getting to play, you know, and I think that’s the biggest thing is the kids are getting an opportunity to get out and play the game that they love,” Ryan said. “We’re lucky enough to get to start on time, and I think we’ll be all right. I think three weeks, possibly as much as four if you count (last week), I think that’s time to install what you’ve got to install. It’s fair for you and fair for the other team, so we’re all in the same boat.”
The date of the first contest for girls soccer remains as originally scheduled, Aug. 17, with state championships to be held Oct. 28-31 in Murfreesboro.
“I’m thrilled to hear we’re starting on time because it kind of caught all of us soccer coaches by surprise,” Rob Fox, Greenback head girls soccer coach, said. “I was already working on a contingency schedule, so I was already trying to move games around based on not having the first three weeks of the season. The announcement hit and I immediately had to go back and email those coaches saying, ‘Forget it, thanks anyway.’ Everybody’s pleased about that.”
Although contact practice is permissible, the regulations and requirements for practice and competition adopted by the Board of Control at the July 22 meeting are still in place for all sports and must be followed.
County and city school administrators could also have a say in starting contact drills and could override approval by the governor and TSSAA.
Athletes, coaches, team personnel, fans and facility workers will be required to receive temperature checks prior to entering a facility for a game. Everyone in attendance above 2 years old will also be required to wear a mask or face covering while on campus and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet.
“This is good news for many kids and their families, but the reality is that the virus will continue to be with us and we have to be smart about taming the spread.” Childress said. “Every adult and every participant in every sport must do their part and follow the guidelines set forth by TSSAA and the governor’s office to help mitigate these risks.”
Schools are also encouraged to limit fan attendance to half or less of maximum seating capacity at each athletic facility.
“Hopefully, it’ll be left up to the individual schools,” Ronnie Roberts, Loudon High School athletic director, said. “I think our first game with Greenback at home this year will be the one that we’ll probably have a big crowd for that one. The other home games, I think we’re probably good. One thing we do have that helps is we’ve got a track around the field with a fence that can hold a lot of people on the fence to social distance. We’re going to have to take this thing week by week.”