Few people were surprised when Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that Louisiana would remain in Phase 2 of coronavirus reopening for 14 more days on Wednesday. Edwards had suggested Phase 2 could continue a day earlier.
The response by LHSAA coaches to Edwards’ Phase 2 extension covered a range of emotions and questions. Football and volleyball are the two sports impacted by the move. Reactions included questions about possible season alterations for volleyball and other intangibles for football.
“I don’t think it effects anything at all about the football season,” The Dunham School’s Neil Weiner said. “Mr. (Eddie) Bonine has been adamant that 14 days after we get into Phase 3, if the (COVID-19) numbers are still good, we can go to full contact.
“They’ve already modified practice to allow us to do 7-on-7 as a team. We can put on shoulder pads right now. Colleges and NFL are full pads now and Dr. (Greg) Stewart (also head of LHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee) has Tulane in full pads, we will get there.”
For volleyball, which was scheduled to start its regular season Sept. 8, there are pressing questions. Will the season be moved back and could the volleyball season be extended past the end of October instead?
“All our students are taking classes virtually, so we work in practices when we can,” Liberty coach Michelle Haynes said. “As coaches, we were looking to next week because we were supposed to scrimmage (in Phase 3) before starting the season. We’ll do whatever we are told to do, but I would hate to go into games without having a scrimmage.”
St. Michael’s Rob Smith said he believes the start date for volleyball may be pushed back to allow for scrimmages. However, Smith hopes teams don’t lose two weeks of their season in that process.
“If the season ends up being six weeks, it’s six weeks,” Smith said. “We’ve talked about possibly playing quarterfinals and semifinals at school sites. I have no idea what the schedule at the Pontchartrain Center is like. If the season can be pushed back, maybe playing finals at school sites would be an option.”
Weiner, Dutchtown’s Guy Mistretta, Lutcher’s Dwain Jenkins and Gabe Fertitta of Catholic High all agree the LHSAA’s COVID-19 altered season can still begin on Oct. 8-10 as projected even with 14 more Phase 2 days. Their individual thoughts varied.
“Look … if this were a normal season we would not be practicing now,” Mistretta said. “Take today’s date and count forward and it’s six weeks until we are scheduled to play in October. You normally get three or four.
“That is why coaches have backed off some. We go no more than 90 minutes a day. Full contact and pads is an adjustment, but there is time for that, provided we move on to Phase 3.”
Jenkins, the president of the Louisiana Football Coaches Association, said he was upset by coaches criticizing the LHSAA and the Gov. Edwards — particularly with Hurricane Laura bearing down on the state. Meanwhile, Fertitta continued to lobby for the LHSAA to provide more vocal leadership.
“As this has unfolded, I’ve tried to take myself out of the football coach role and also see it as a administrator,” Jenkins said. “I see coaches pointing to other states and the fact that they are playing and we’re not. The method for each state to play is different. With a storm bearing down on Louisiana like this where people’s lives are at stake … I just didn’t think it was a proper thing to do.
“Yes, our COVID cases have gone down. We work hard as coaches to keep our players safe. Our numbers, per capita remained too high. I would be OK with Phase 2 being extended because of the storm and other things.”
Fertitta emphasized his desire for the LHSAA to advocate for its schools and athletes does not mean he takes COVID-19 lightly.
“The coronavirus is real and a very dangerous thing,” Fertitta said. “Anyone who doesn’t take it seriously is irresponsible. As coaches, I think we have shown that you can keep athletes safe while working out. I understand (Louisiana Legislature) Act 9 and the liability issues out there.
“I want the LHSAA to lead … communicate with us to show that you stand for the athletes, schools and coaches and not just waiting on the governor, who has a myriad of things to consider besides high school sports. When you are silent, other people fill the void with information that can be negative or incorrect.”