MEMPHIS, Tenn. — This year’s high school football season is in jeopardy after coronavirus concerns already delayed practices.
Shelby County Schools only this week allowed student-athletes to begin conditioning, and they’re doing so not knowing when or if they’ll have a season at all.
The Whitehaven Tigers started summer workouts this week, but no full-blown practices yet. Practices are on hold until they hear from higher ups in the district and the state.
Coach Rodney Saulsberry doesn’t know when they’ll get the directive, what this years season will look like or if there will be one at all.
“I’m cautiously optimistic for the kids, the opportunities that the season will present as far as exposure for possible scholarship opportunities and just what football would do to bring some since of normalcy and some since of activity for the young men,” Saulsberry said.
Social distancing is in full-effect at Whitehaven during this phase of conditioning, but the six-feet-apart rule stops the minute they start the season, as it’s the contact that makes the game great.
“What about the actual contact team-to-team,” Saulsberry said. “Can you do that safely? I think eventually we may learn how to, but I think it’s going to take a little time to figure that out.”
The folks that figure that out, the TSSAA, are in limbo and waiting for Gov. Bill Lee to grant their request to begin play before the August 31 executive order ends.
“We’re asking that the governor treat high school sports like the NFL, let the governing body decide,” said Richard McWhirter with the TSSAA. “If the governor does not change his order, we will be voting on one of two things: for a shorter season or, two, for other options.”
One other option is to move the Friday night lights to the Spring, when the spread of coronavirus may be less of a threat to the young men who play the sport and the households they return to after the games.
“It’s not advantageous, obviously, we would rather just delay the season and still play in the fall, but it doesn’t matter as long as we’re keeping the kids’ health and safety paramount; whatever decision they make is going to be what we do,” Saulsberry said.
Spring football would interfere with student-athletes who play sports like baseball and track.
Saulsberry said it could hinder scholarship opportunities, but it comes at a time when districts are considering virtual school as an option.
“Anytime you have smaller groups, it’s easier to manage, so that’s a way I think we could possibly make it work … because you have smaller numbers, easier to do the contact tracing, you know, who’s been around who,” Saulsberry said. “We still have to navigate this new normal. We’re nowhere near ready for full-contact right now. We just have to go through this process, and I think we’re working towards that end.”
TSSAA wants high school teams to have three weeks of practice before they begin games. If the governor doesn’t make an exception for high school football, the first games won’t begin until mid- to late-September.