Prep football in August? Gov. Lee says ‘You can do it!’

A play from a previous Citizen Tribune Kickoff Classic.  Gov. Bill Lee’s announcement Tuesday opened the door for the annual game to be played at some point, but local officials are discussing options as well as TSSAA guidelines. An announcement about the status of the game will be available at a later date.

In a press release Tuesday afternoon, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee indicated he will issue an executive order allowing high school contact sports, girls’ soccer and football, to resume.

What that means for the Citizen Tribune Kickoff Classic between Morristown East and Morristown West remains unclear. The game was initially scheduled for Aug. 20. However, it was officially postponed when Lee previously announced contact sports were delayed until September.

Dr. Jeff Perry, superintendent of the Hamblen County School System, said he and his staff will research the impact of the governor’s announcement and will let players, parents, coaches and fans know as soon as a decision has been made.

“We have not had time yet to fully digest what this means in a practical sense,” Perry said. “We are committed to allowing students to participate in athletics if we can do so in a safe manner.”

Perry said any announcement about the Kickoff Classic is premature.

“We have a weekly Region 1 Superintendent meeting, in that meeting we normally have a regional athletic director join us to help to coordinate activities in this region,” Perry said Wednesday morning. “Today, I assume one of the conversations will be what it mean in a practical sense.

“We want to have all games and we especially want the East–West game to occur but we don’t want people’s enthusiasm to override the need to have games in a safe manner. We will have more information by the end of the day and will update everyone by the end of the week.”

Lee’s announcement comes a week after the TSSAA chose a “flex” plan to start the season on Sept. 18. The plan allowed the TSSAA to start the season earlier if Lee changed his executive order, which now he has announced intentions to do.

Once the order is signed, contact may take place in girls’ soccer practice. The date of first contest remains as originally scheduled, Aug. 17, with the state championships to be held Oct. 28-31 in Murfreesboro.

Football teams were allowed to begin heat acclimatization on July 20th. Each athlete must complete heat acclimatization (two days of helmets only, three days in helmets and shoulder pads) before practicing in full equipment, which is now permitted.

No changes to the 2020 football schedule, regular season or otherwise, will be made.

The contingency plan for football passed by the Board of Control last week stated that if contact practice could resume prior to Aug. 4, then no contests would be rescheduled. Therefore, the possible date of the first contest for football remains as Aug. 21 with state championships Dec. 3-5 in Cookeville.

“This is good news for many kids and their families,” TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. “But the reality is that the virus will continue to be with us and we have to be smart about taming the spread. Every adult and every participant in every sport must do their part and follow the guidelines set forth by TSSAA and the Governor’s office to help mitigate these risks.”

Tuesday, Lee said contact sports will be able to continue with the caveat that the sports in question follow the requirements of the TSSAA.

The governor means the following guidelines, which were issued by the TSSAA last week:

• Temperature checks are required for all coaches, players and team personnel prior to practice every single day. If the temperature is 100.4 or greater, they must be sent home. Can’t return until they have a note saying they tested negative for COVID-19 or have a physician exam saying COVID-19 is not cause of fever.

• No coach, player or team personnel may participate in practice or contest without first completing appropriate COVID-19 screening.

• No scrimmages, jamboree’s, 7-on-7 practice or other types of practice with other teams is permitted.

o This includes volleyball.

• At contests, all coaches, players, team personnel, officials, administrators and fans must have their temperatures checked before entering the facility.

• At each contest, the following symptoms checklist shall be posted prominently at the spectator entrances, instructing that anyone who is experiencing any of these symptoms during the preceding 7 days must not be admitted.

o Fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, shaking chills, chest pain, pressure of tightness with exercise, fatigue, racing heart rate, unusual dizziness, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea and unusual rash or painful discoloration of fingers or toes.

• At contests in localities where fan attendance is permitted, member schools are encouraged to limit fan attendance to a number that will allow adequate social distancing (1/4 to 1/3 of typical seating capacity, depending on the characteristics of the particular venue) and should mark/designate bleachers or seats in order to promote social distancing among spectators.

• Member schools will require that all fans wear facial covering at all times while on-site (except children under age 2) and maintain social distancing.

• If a public address system is in use for a contest, the host school will make public service announcements at various times during the contest to remind those in attendance to use masks and maintain physical distancing.

• Frequent cleaning and sanitation is encouraged.

• Concession stands are discouraged.

• All coaches must complete the free NFHS online course “COVID-19 for Coaches and Administrators.”

Lee also said non-TSSAA schools must follow equivalent guidelines, and non-school-sponsored athletics should follow the Tennessee Pledge guidelines.

An update to the Pledge guidelines will be forthcoming, Lee said.