By MARINA WATERS
With direction from Gov. Bill Lee and guidelines from the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, Washington County’s schools will have full-contact competitions in its stadiums and gyms this fall.
The Washington County Board of Education’s Athletics Committee met on Thursday, July 31, to discuss the future of fall sports at the middle school and high school levels in the county. The committee approved a regular, full-contact schedule for all fall sports in an unanimous 7-0 vote.
“If the governor’s telling you you can do it — we can’t all live under a rock until everything gets better…” Chad Fleenor, a committee member and Washington County Board of Education member said. “I feel like we’re taking the proper guidelines and we can move some extra seating and increase the seating to help people spread out at the stadiums. I hate to see us steal something else from these seniors after watching the whole spring get canceled and we were in a lot better of a place (in terms of local COVID-19 cases) at that time.”
The decision came after Lee signed Executive Order No. 55 on Friday, July 31, allowing contact sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, local COVID-19 case numbers have climbed with 22 newactive cases between Sunday and Monday in Washington County. Those increasing numbers are what prompted Director of Schools Bill Flanary to announce on Monday, July 27, that Washington County Schools would open in an online format starting Aug. 3.
“Our plan is to revisit the protocol after 30 days, but that’s flexible,” Flanary said. “If the infection rate drops dramatically sooner than that, we’ll look at putting students back in schools physically. Every decision will be made in consultation with the health department.”
If school is operating online, how is it safe to go ahead with fall sports?
Jonesborough Middle School Principal Brandon McKee told the athletics committee he faces that question often in conversations with parents and in the numerous emails he receives.
“The message that we’re sending as an administrator,” McKee said, ‘is ‘We’re not in school right now, but we can play sports.’ I want them to play sports. They just did a fundraiser at our school the other day. But as administrators, we are sending the message that ‘It’s dangerous for you to come to school. We’re in the red, but it’s okay to play sports.’”
Board member Todd Ganger said he felt there was a difference between a large number of students in common areas in county schools versus the smaller number of athletes who are often practicing outdoors. He also said it remains the parent or guardian’s choice to allow his or her child to participate in sports.
“We’re not saying it’s not safe to go to school,” Ganger said. “We’re saying because the levels in the area are increased, to help reduce them, we are going virtual for now. To me, there’s a difference. If it was unsafe, there’d be a lot of things not going on. I wish we were in school personally. But I don’t think Dr. Flanary saying we’re going virtual for 30 days is saying it’s unsafe to go to school. We can go back to school, but we’re choosing at this time to not to. We’re a little elevated in the area right now. It’s not unsafe is how I feel.”
On July 22, TSSAA suggested safety guidelines such as social distancing protocols in terms of seating at sporting events and cutting out concession stands. Those guidelines also require COVID-19 screenings and temperature checks for coaches, players and team personnel and temperature checks for spectators.
The athletic director for the Southside of the county, Josh Kite, and the Northside director, Danny Good, said the number of seating at each school throughout the county would vary according to space. TSSAA also recommends one-fourth to one-third of normal seating capacity.
Boone’s football stadium at full capacity holds 3,000 people while Crockett’s holds 2,000. At one-third capacity, Boone could allow 1,000 spectators and Crockett 667.
The guidelines also mention no scrimmages or jamborees for the fall season. However, TSSAA has not changed the 2020 football schedule. The first football game of the season will be on Aug. 21. Crockett will face Ooltewah away and Boone will host Sullivan South.
As for the athletes, Good said he felt it was important for students to have something to look forward to in a school year that has already started like none other.
“I just feel like our kids, our coaches, our communities, our schools,” Good said, “I just think they need a plan. They need something to give us some hope, a distraction from this virus and something to look forward to.
“We can always adjust. I feel like our people need a plan. They need a date.”
The school board met after press time for the Herald & Tribune. For the latest breaking news, visit heraldandtribune.com or https://www.facebook.com/HeraldandTribune or https://twitter.com/JBHeraldTribune.