As part of the “Safe Reopening Plan for Tennessee Schools,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee issued Executive Order No. 55 on Tuesday that allows the resumption of contact sports.
The order means football and girls soccer teams can begin full contact under COVID-19 regulations set by the TSSAA Board of Control on July 22, which includes no scrimmages or jamborees. It also means girls soccer and football seasons can start on time with first soccer matches scheduled for Aug. 17 and first football games scheduled for Aug. 21.
“(Greeneville football coach Eddie Spradlen) and I had talked just (Tuesday) about how we thought things may actually get pushed back, so the announcement today was a really big surprise to us,” said Greeneville athletic director Brad Woolsey. “On one hand, you’re thankful because maybe you can get back to some normalcy. At the same time, you’re still concerned about the virus and the levels that it’s at here in East Tennessee. It’s kind of a double-edged sword for me.
“There’s still just a lot of unknowns, you know? I think that’s what we’ll have to cope with throughout the year, the continuous unknown of any day, any week things changing. … I was shocked today.”
Prior to Gov. Lee’s announcement on Tuesday, contact sports were prohibited through Aug. 29 as part of Lee’s State of Emergency order, potentially pushing back the start of girls soccer and football seasons.
“(Tuesday’s announcement) really knocked me off my feet,” Spradlen said. “I didn’t think there was any way we would play Aug. 21. It’s good news. The kids will be excited, which is always good. It’s an exciting time, but it’s a nerve-racking time at the same time.”
Now that teams have been cleared for contact and for seasons to start on time, the risk of seasons being interrupted or cut short by COVID-19 outbreaks remains.
Major League Baseball has suspended the Miami Marlins’ season through Sunday due to nearly 20 players and coaches testing positive for the virus.
Some college football teams have also been hit by positive COVID-19 tests, some college conferences have postponed fall sports and some states have gone as far as moving high school fall sports to the winter and spring.
Unlike professional and college teams, Tennessee High School teams don’t have funding for daily and weekly testing or around-the-clock world-class medical care, thus avoiding and controlling outbreaks could prove more challenging.
Prior to high school teams opening their seasons, questions as to how teams distance athletes on buses, in locker rooms and on sidelines will need to be addressed. And, too, how many fans will be allowed into stadiums, how do you distance fans in the stands and at concessions stands?
“I don’t know that there’s any question that there’s not going to be some COVID amongst our athletic teams, not just Greeneville, but talking about Northeast Tennessee,” Woolsey said. “To say it’s not going to happen probably really isn’t feasible.
“For us, even though things are opened up in terms of contact sports, we want to continue to maintain and develop protocols and do as good as we can to keep our kids safe. There is no COVID-free environment. We can’t promise that.”
Spradlen acknowledges controlling outbreaks might prove more difficult for high school teams.
“Anything you do in life, you’re rolling the dice,” he said. “(My family) just drove to go fishing and to Chick-fil-A. You’re rolling the dice every time you do something. Some people aren’t going to be willing to take the chance. But I think most kids want normalcy back in their lives. Personally, I want it. My kids are dying to go back to school.
“At the same time, you have to be cautious when you’re doing these things. You’re not going to drive down the road at a hundred miles an hour. You have to take precautions and help prevent the spread of the virus as best as you can.”
Thus far, no one involved with the Greeneville football and girl soccer teams have had to be sent home due to the virus.
“We’ve done a really good job, I feel like, of making sure we’re following the same procedures each day,” Spradlen said. “Our kids are parking different places, they check in different places for workouts. We’re doing a really good job of making sure we’re sanitizing stuff and trying to make sure we keep our social distancing. Any time we’re not training, we encourage our kids to have masks on.
“We’ve always done a real good job of doing laundry, washing the kids’ stuff, cleaning their pads and equipment. We’ve got to do our part. We’ve got to stay on top of that stuff. We can’t be slack with any of that. If you don’t, you’ll set yourself up to have an outbreak.”
Greeneville’s football team is slated to open its season at home against Powell on Aug. 21, while the girls soccer team is slated to open its season at Unicoi on Aug. 25.
“We just all have to stay healthy,” said Greeneville soccer coach Jerry Graham. “Everybody’s got to do their part. We can do everything in the world as Greeneville High School, but if other people, other teams, other schools don’t react the same way, our season could be in danger again.
“We have to keep the precautions our school system has already put in place and the ones the TSSAA put forth last week. We’re going to ease back into things. We’re going to still try to do it in the safest manner possible.”