By R. Alan Richardson
In a long-awaited decision, the Georgia High School Association will begin allowing member high schools to have conditioning workouts and training June 8. The decision doesn’t come without restrictions. The summer preparations are vital in that many of the athletes may not have been involved in a conditioning program of any kind since the Coronavirus reared its ugly head back in February. However, this is a welcome sign that there is still hope for a possible “normal” return to sporting events in the fall. That decision has not been made, but coaches around the state, including MCHS Head Football Coach Bill Malone, are happy to hear about the decision.
He said, “I’m looking forward to seeing the kids and the coaches again. I’m curious as to how some of the younger coaches are going to adapt to what was very commonplace until 1997. June and part of July, prior to 1997, were reserved for lifting and conditioning only. We didn’t get a ball out until very late in July. Since our first 7 vs. 7 against Monticello and Monroe Area in June of 1997 we have found ourselves playing more and more football. It encompasses most of the summer. Whether it’s a tournament, a scheduled 7 vs. 7 with another school, or a padded camp; we’ve been competing for over 22 summers. I’m looking forward to just working with our kids and focusing on our team.”
County-wide Athletic Director Doug Connelly was equally glad to hear of the reopening saying, “I’m very excited about the GHSA’s decision to allow student-athletes to return to strength and conditioning activities beginning June 8. The kids haven’t been around teammates in this type of setting for two and half months, so it’s exciting for them to be allowed an opportunity for socialization and camaraderie – not to mention the physical conditioning.”
It was first suggested by the GHSA and their Executive Director Robin Hines that practices could resume on June 1, but some on the Board of Trustees thought it was a little too early. They settled on the June 8 date to give schools more time to prepare for the new rules and recommendations given by the GHSA. Here are the new guidelines:
1. All summer work is voluntary.
2. Schools/School systems may be more restrictive than the GHSA, but not less.
3. Workouts are conditioning only. No ball or sport-specific equipment.
4. Member schools should prepare and infectious disease prevention plan prior to staff and athletes returning to conditioning.
5. It is recommended that staff and athletes are screened prior to each workout.
6. Signage should be posted on-site with the following:
Do you or have you had a fever in the last week?
Have you been diagnosed with COVID-19?
Have you been in contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19?
Have you traveled to a hot spot for COVID-19?
7. Groups of 20, including coaches, for workouts per sport at any given time at campus or facility.
8. Groups should be the same individuals, including coaches, for each session to limit risk of exposure. Students or coaches CANNOT change groups for the duration of this guidance.
9. No use of locker rooms or shower facilities. Students should report to the facility dressed to condition and shower at home.
10. Weight equipment should be cleaned prior to each workout and sanitized between use by each student.
11. Hand sanitizer should be plentiful and readily available.
12. Each student should have their own personal water bottle. No use of water fountains or “water cows” is allowed.
13. Side spots only in the weight training, safety bars are preferred.
14. Social distancing should be adhered to always and masks/face covering are recommended for the weight room.
15. At least 15 minutes should be scheduled between groups to allow for disinfecting the facility.
16. There is no competition allowed between schools.
17. No visitors are allowed at conditioning sessions.
Malone was asked how the new guidelines might affect his team and coaches, and how the rules would be enforced. He told us, “I hope everyone will be on a level playing field. The one thing I can say with certainty is that we’re going to follow the guidelines put in place. I think it’s wishful thinking to believe every program will follow the rules. We’ll be towing the line with these new regulations. There is no way the GHSA can monitor all 450+ schools that fall under their umbrella. It’s been too big for them for a long time. The only program I can control is ours and we’re going to do the right thing and follow the rules. What other coaches choose to do is up to them and their school leadership. We’re going to do it by the book here.”
County-wide Athletic Director Doug Connelly gave some insight into what went into the reopening saying, “The GHSA, led by Executive Director Dr. Robin Hines, has put a substantial amount of time into setting forth the protocols guiding member schools to a return to workouts. These protocols were based on information from the GHSA’s sports medicine advisory committee as well as the National Federation of High School’s (NFHS) guidelines. Therefore, we are being provided with professionally drafted guidelines. Locally, our coaches, Dennis Sitzmann (Morgan County athletic trainer), administrators, and our facilities staff will work together to make sure procedures are followed. Yes, workouts will be much different than normal; but we have the tools and staff to make it happen. Morgan County is blessed with an experienced coaching staff that operates with professionalism. In talking with our coaches, they understand that the protocols and stipulations set forth by GHSA are done so with the well-being of student-athletes and staff in mind. Yes, we would all like to be able to roll the sports equipment back out. That will come with time. If coaches, not only in Morgan County but across the state, do their part to help this first phase of the return go well, then it is likely that some form of sport-specific training will be allowed in July.”
He continued with some of his concerns and expectations with these comments, “Since student-athletes have been out of school, strength training, and normal athletic activities for two and half months, there is no way for our coaches to know what type of shape the athletes will be returning in. For this reason, our coaches understand that student-athletes need to be eased back into strength and conditioning activities. Student-athletes cannot be expected to be at their normal level of conditioning for this time of the year. However, there is ample time to help athletes get to where they need to be.”