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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / East Ridge football coach Tim James speaks to officials before a home game against Polk County on Aug. 14, 2018. Local TSSAA football officials will have to get used to new ways of operating during games, including keeping a safe distance from coaches when discussing rulings.

With high school football season about to kick off in Tennessee, players and coaches aren't the only ones making adjustments related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

TSSAA officiating crews will take extra measures to ensure the safety of themselves and others during games this season starting Friday night.

Soddy-Daisy's Bill Cole, a supervisor in the TSSAA's Southeast football officials association, said there are approximately 70 officials available right now for the area, while 14 decided to opt out this year because of concerns about the coronavirus. On-field officials make $105 per game, while clock workers earn $75.

"For the moment, we are good. We have the bodies," said Cole, who has been involved in high school football officiating for 35 years. "We are taking things literally a day at a time. Our primary goal is to maintain reduction of risk in contacting the virus. I don't think you can necessarily prevent getting the virus unless you are in a bubble, but we have to do the best we can to make ourselves and others as low risk as possible of getting it."

While it has been common for five-man crews to carpool to games due to limited parking, with stadiums expected to be less than half full due to COVID-19 guidelines and more parking available, officials are being encouraged to drive themselves to games.

Local football referees are being required this season to do their pregame meetings on Zoom calls opposed to their typical method, which usually requires them to gather in a room of the school. Their temperatures will be checked before entering the stadium as well.

Officials are to remain six feet away from coaches while speaking with them during games, and they also will wear face masks until kickoff and are responsible for bringing their own water bottles. Crews will not huddle on the field, either, and instead will use radios to communicate.

All timeouts will be lengthened from one to two minutes to allow coaches, players and officials to get water safely.

"In talking with my assignment officer Warren Diegel, he keeps getting revisions almost daily on new rules we have to follow," Cole said. "Everyone has no problem with the measures of caution we are taking, and we are excited to get to official games and the kids get to play. We are all hoping that everything will go off without a hitch and that we can make it all the way through the state championships this year."

Some schedules have already shifted, including the cancellation of games, due to teams testing positive for or being exposed to the coronavirus or out of an abundance of caution. Most teams in the Chattanooga area, though, will kick off as planned, and officials will play an important role as usual — albeit with some different ways of doing things.

"Inside the boundaries of the playing field is where 100% of our responsibilities lie," Cole said. "Things can change daily, and we are prepared for that. We just hope everyone adheres to the protocols outside of the game so they can be healthy enough to play the game."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

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