Even with COVID-19 cases surging, many schools are preparing for fall sports

Even with COVID-19 cases surging, many schools are preparing for fall sports

It’s getting to be that time of year when the glow of the Friday Night Lights is shining across the Atlanta metro, but many parents say they are wondering if there will even be any high school sports this fall. And if there are – will it be safe for their children to play?

The Georgia High School Association told Channel 2′s Michael Seiden that it is hoping to have fall sports but that the situation is very fluid. Things are changing on a daily basis.

We’ve learned as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Georgia, thousands of student-athletes are preparing for what’s expected to be a season unlike any other.

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“We’re about five weeks away from the start of the 2020 season. How are you feeling?” Seiden asked Westminster High School rising junior Holden Staes.

“I feel good. We haven’t heard anything new in terms of if the season is going to happen or it’s not. So right now, me and my teammates have been preparing like we’re going to have a season,” Staes said.

Staes is a stellar player who is already gaining attention from college football powerhouses, such as the University of Georgia, University of Alabama and Ohio State University.

The 17-year-old said that he’s anxious to get back into pads. But right now, he and his teammates are only allowed to do on-field conditioning.

Staes said when it comes to training in the weight room, he has to practice social distancing while lifting weights and things like that. He said he also has to wear a mask.

“It was definitely hard the first week, but after you get used to working out in a mask, it’s not that bad,” Staes said.

“This time in the summer, the helmet, the pads, full contact — you guys are going full speed. But this year, it’s been a little bit different?” Seiden asked Staes.

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“Usually, we would start putting the pads on late next week. We would start having our two-a-days. But right now, we can’t have those,” Staes said.

The teen’s father said, so far, he’s been extremely pleased with how school officials and coaches have handled this situation.

He, like most parents Seiden spoke with, is supportive of playing games during a pandemic.

“We have the benefit of being at a great school with a lot of resources, so we’re confident following Westminster’s lead in this and other things. But as a family, this is one of many activities we talk about daily,” the father said.

So what are games going to look like this season? Empty stadiums? Closed concession stands? A new rule for the coin toss? They’re all possibilities now under consideration by the Georgia High School Association.

GHSA executive director Robin Hines said schools are doing a great job following the guidelines, which asks administrators to report all positive COVID-19 cases involving players and coaches.

“There have been 300 positive cases since June 1,” Hines said.

Those 300 are out of tens of thousands of athletes at hundreds of schools. Hines said right now, there are no plans to delay or cancel fall sports.

“We meet weekly with our sports medicine advisory council. And you know, we examine the data and look at where we are and in all of these types of things and make the plan for the next week,” Hines said.

One of the medical experts serving on the GHSA advisory council is Dr. David Marshall, who is also the medical director of sports medicine at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“Every parent’s asking right now, ‘Is it safe for my child to return to sports?’” Seiden asked Marshall.

“Yeah, I think it is,” Marshall said.

“Are you concerned potentially of seeing pack high school football stadiums on Friday nights?” Seiden asked Marshall.

“Yeah, that is that is a concern, but there are certainly ways around that,” Marshall said. “You might limit the number of people in the stands, so you can use athletic tape and block off every other seat.”

Marshall said when it comes to student-athletes, there are several ways they can protect themselves on and off the field.

“We have learned recently that in kids, even the adolescence, that fever might not be the main symptom, it might not be respiratory symptoms. Either it’s gastrointestinal stuff, so nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach aches, things like that. So even though that doesn’t involve your respiratory system, that still may be a sign of coronavirus, so you don’t have to have cough and fever to stay home,” Marshall said.

With more adults testing positive, coaches are also staying vigilant.

Milton High School football coach Adam Clack recently tested positive for COVID-19. He talked about battling the virus while appearing on the “Georgia Prep Sports from a Distance” podcast with host I.J. Rosenberg.

“(I had) very mild symptoms. Just a little lethargic, no fever or anything like that,” Clack said.

Daniel Brunner is the head football coach at Walton High School in Cobb County.

“I spoke with Coach Park the other day. And you know, he just can’t be with his guys,” Brunner said.

Brunner told Seiden that each one of his players is required to use a smartphone to check in to practice by scanning a QR code. Then a coach takes their temperature before they hit the field.

These are all safety measures to protect the entire team.

“For me, one of my biggest fears in coaching is losing a kid. We don’t want to lose anybody to COVID, whether it’s a coach or player,” Brunner said.

GHSA has made recommendations to all the schools in the state about playing sports in the fall. But ultimately, the decisions are left to the school districts about whether or not to let students play.

Channel 2 Action News producers spent the day Tuesday contacting several school districts in metro Atlanta about their plans for fall sports.

"We are continually monitoring COVID-19 case data in the metropolitan area and in the DeKalb area to determine next steps regarding fall athletic programming," DeKalb County Schools stated.

Fulton County Schools stated: “As a district, we are still planning on moving forward with the Fall season. We will continue to monitor the conditions around our district as we get closer to the start of Fall practices. As of now, Football practice will start on July 27th, and the other fall sports will start on August 1st.”

Gwinnett schools reported they are following all GHSA practice guidelines and will continue to do so.

Parents nervous as schools continue to work on reopening plans for fall