The coronavirus pandemic has brought more questions about high school athletics than answers for Louisiana and other states.
Some dismissed last Wednesday’s statement that reaffirmed the LHSAA’s commitment to a safe start for fall athletics as lip service. Executive director Eddie Bonine did get a noteworthy thumbs up.
“Every state is different and has different issues,” Bonine said. “I spoke with the Florida director, George Tomyn, about that the other day. One size does not fit all for a solution even in the same state.
“He saw our statement. He told me he wished he could get his board on board with something like that — a statement that says we’re going to do what we can.”
Next up for Bonine is an appearance before Louisiana’s House Education Committee at 10 a.m. Monday. Cade Brumley, Louisiana’s new Superintendent of Education, is also among education leaders set to appear.
“At no time have we talked about canceling seasons. We have discussed moving the start and finish dates for seasons,” Bonine said. “We know what sports like cross country and volleyball can do in Phase 3 (reopening) three, that football can’t.
“Football will always be a separate entity because it is a full-contact sport … a collision sport. There is a chance volleyball could get 10 games in before football can play its first one. We don’t know what that will look like.”
As the LHSAA continues toward Aug. 10, the official date for practice date for fall sports, including football, other states are doing the same things. Like the LHSAA, none in the southern states have announced fall plans. Their workouts also are optional and schools/school districts have the authority to change workout plans.
Directors Robin Hines of Georgia and Lance Taylor of Arkansas juggle different sports, state mandates and phases of reopening. Neither state has issued a policy statement, yet both believe fall sports, including football, can begin on time.
“I am meeting with my sports medicine advisory council each week. We look at the data on COVID cases and what the governors’ orders say and allow us to do,” Hines said. “When you put all things together, there is no one data point that means more than the other to us.
“We hope we can be less restrictive soon. Coming off the dead week (for July 4), volleyball has been able to set, hit and have tryouts. Baseball can throw to catchers with a batter at the plate. Football has been able to do 7-on-7 … strictly intrasquad. Next week I was hopeful that we could have some competition 7-on-7 between schools. But with the way things have been, especially the political landscape, we decided to keep things where they are.”
Unlike his colleagues in Arkansas and Louisiana, Hines gets data on COVID-19 cases at his schools and statewide. So far, 68 of 470 Georgia schools have reported cases among athletes or coaches and have either shut down practices or sent groups of players home to isolate. Georgia workouts started with groups of 20 and can now have a maximum of 50 players and coaches.
Hines likes the numbers he sees, but says those numbers make no guarantee for two weeks from now. That is pivotal, since July 27 is Georgia’s date for football heat-acclimation practices. Regular practice begin Aug. 1.
“Our governor has said our students will be in school. I strongly believe that if students are in school, we need to have activities and sports for them,” Hines said. “But if the data on infections and deaths takes drastic downturn that would put students and coaches at risk, that could change.”
Taylor faces different parameters. Last week, Arkansas moved the start to Aug. 24 — back two weeks. Arkansas athletes locked into conditioning workouts only as part of its phased reopening just like Louisiana.
“Our contact sports — football, basketball, volleyball and wrestling — started weight lifting and conditioning last month. We are still in that same phase,” Taylor said. “We had a spike in cases and the governor kept us where we are. With the start of school being pushed back, I am confident we can start all our sports on time.”
The idea of flipping sports seasons to push football to the spring has been kicked around in Arkansas, just as it has in Louisiana. Taylor believes it reduces risks for one sport but could put others in jeopardy.
“Baseball, softball, track and soccer have already missed one season for us. I am scared to death to move those sports to the fall,” Taylor said. “If this gets bad again like some people are projecting, they would or could miss two seasons.
“One thing I think all 50 states have in common right now — we have no idea whether it will be any better in January. That unknown bothers me. We are dealing with kids. These are their childhood memories and we want to make sure we do everything to ensure they have them.”