By R. Alan Richaardson
In this time of concern, it is obvious that many people, jobs, livelihoods, and lives have been affected. We sat down with current Morgan County High School Athletic Director Doug Connelly to address some of his concerns. The following will hopefully answer some of the many questions the community has about how our student-athletes will be affected.
Q1: What is the current timeline for going back to school?
A1: As of today, Morgan County Charter School System schools are set to resume a regular school schedule on Monday, April 13.
Q2: What is the current timeline for starting practices back?
A2: From the GHSA website: “The GHSA is an extension of our member schools in providing education-based sports and activities. As such, and in response to Governor Kemp’s mandatory closure of Georgia’s public schools, the mandatory closure will extend to all GHSA sports and activities including practice. Schools are scheduled to reopen on March 31 and we will follow the guidance available to us at that time. The safety of our student athletes and all of those that they come in contact with is our top priority.” Although the regular school schedule will not resume here in Morgan County until after spring break, our athletic teams have been approved to begin practicing on April 1. The April 1 practice date will stand if allowed by GHSA and assuming there is not an extension to the state-mandated closure of public schools.
Q3. What is the current timeline for starting the regular season back up?
A3. For the sake of this response, let’s assume Morgan County Athletic teams are allowed to begin practicing on April 1. Our coaches have been encouraging athletes to work out on their own; however, it’s going to take some time for the individual athletes and teams as a whole to become game-ready. All of our spring sports teams will need a minimum of one week to practice before resuming play. Depending on the particular sport, the one week of practice would put resumption of play somewhere between April 8 and April 13.
Q4. If and when would playoffs for spring sports begin?
A4: GHSA playoffs for Baseball, Soccer and Tennis are scheduled to begin the week of April 20th. Slowpitch Softball utilizes a state sectional format, which is scheduled for April 15 and 16. An area tournament/region meet is used to determine state qualifications for the sports of Golf (Boys – April 27; Girls May 4) and Track (Region 8-AAA Meet April 28 and April 30). Before state playoffs begin, each region will have to determine how to handle competition within the region. Region standings determine state playoff qualifiers for Baseball, Soccer and Tennis; so providing some type of conclusion to the region schedule will be important. Region 8-AAA coaches and athletic directors will decide the best format for each sport given the limited time for competitions.
The state playoff schedule will no doubt be impacted because additional time will be needed to accommodate a brief practice period before returning to play and conclusion of region play. Traditionally, the top four teams from each region qualify for the state playoffs. The GHSA could choose to back up round one of the state playoffs by a week or more and condense the time needed to complete the state playoff format. This is a feasible option, given a one week break between the first three rounds of play. Another option would be to reduce the number of state qualifiers to the top two from each region. Like the option discussed in the previous paragraph, this would shorten the time period needed to complete the state playoffs, thus allowing additional time for the completion of regular season play. I’m sure there are many other options to providing a state playoff format. Each option will no doubt have pros and cons. However, the most important thing to keep in mind is that any option giving the kids a chance to compete is better than the 2020 season coming to an end with no version of a state playoff format.
Q5. Is it a real possibility that school and all spring sports could be canceled until next fall?
A5. Based on the NCAA canceling its basketball tournament and the entire spring sports season, it does seem possible that spring sports at the high school level could be shut down for the remainder of the 2020. However, that’s not the case at this time. Coaches, athletic directors and administrators are discussing the “what ifs” and various options on a daily basis to give the student-athletes a chance to return to play.
Q6. What is the timeline contingent on?
A6. As far as the reopening of public schools is concerned, the decision seems to reside at the state level/Governor. The Georgia High School Association will guide the high school athletics piece with regard to decisions made at the state government level.
Q7. What are your feelings or thinking on how this will affect those seniors or others who are hoping or still trying to gain college scholarships?
A7. It probably impacts student-athletes in some sports more than others. For example, the majority of senior student-athletes has already made their college plans or are at least in contact with college coaches. Not having a state meet for a sport like Track and Field could potentially impact those athletes more so than their peers who are involved in other sports. This is because the state track meet is usually crawling with college coaches, whereas college baseball/soccer/tennis/golf have had more time to see athletes compete at the travel/club level or first part of the high school season.
Q8. As the AD and a former coach, how hard is this to watch these kids lose out on the opportunity they’ve worked so hard for?
A8. The whole-reason education-based athletics exist is to give students an opportunity to learn beyond the classroom and represent their school communities; so, this is the most difficult part of the situation. Professional athletes can come back and play next year and seniors at the college level may be granted another year of eligibility. High-school athletes don’t have the option of getting the year back. That’s why it is incumbent on those in decision-making roles to make every attempt to provide some type of conclusion to the season. It’s also important to note how coaches are affected by the situation. The Morgan County coaching staff puts in year-round effort both on and off the field to make their respective programs as strong as possible. The payoff for the coaches and student-athletes alike is their sport’s three month regular season.
Q9. Is there anything the community, fans, and supporters can do to help out in this time of serious discussion?
A9. Just to understand that the continuation of the 2020 spring sports season is contingent upon a lot of factors right now and that firm plans cannot be made at this time. However, contingencies and “what if” scenarios are being discussed so that a plan is in place when resumption of play/practice occurs.
Q10. Do you have any suggestions or advice for the coaches, players, and support staff?
A10. Adversity is an oft-discussed topic within the sports world. As an athlete, this situation is full of adversity. Observe social distancing and other guidelines but do what you can do to continue to hone your craft. Coaches can still guide their athletes, and athletes can still put in work on their own to remain game ready and even improve. When play resumes, it will be evident who continued to work and who used this time to sit around. I would ask which group would you want to be part of?