As Tennessee high school football programs wait for a starting date for the 2020 season, programs in Georgia are getting more guidelines and fewer restrictions with official preseason work set to begin next week.
The Georgia High School Association has released a set of guidelines, recommendations and restrictions for Monday's start to the five-day football acclimation period, the latest in a series of the easing of restrictions by the state's main governing body for prep athletics. Some of the information was not new, but other items, such as the availability of locker rooms, was good news for area coaches.
"I wasn't too surprised about the guidelines," Ridgeland coach Kip Klein said. "I'm glad they finally let us use locker rooms, because we've been storing our helmets in hallways because you don't want the kids taking them home. We were all scared that we were going to have pads in a little over a week and not have locker rooms."
Coaches will have to come up with plans to keep players physically distanced in locker rooms, which will also have to be disinfected on a regular basis. To Klein, it's a small price to pay.
"We've already made a plan where the seniors will come in the front of the building, go to their lockers and put on their stuff and leave out the back as the juniors come in, and so on," he said. "It could take 40 minutes for them to get ready, but our kids are embracing just being able to get together."
The guidelines, released by GHSA executive director Robin Hines to schools Wednesday, also remove group size restrictions, which had been set at 50 in Gov. Brian Kemp's most recent state of emergency plan in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting Monday, teams will be allowed to be on the field together for the first time in preparation for the 2020 season, with spring practices also lost during the pandemic.
"We haven't been able to practice as a whole team yet, so if we had started on time it would have been real difficult for the kids," Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe coach Bo Campbell said. "We usually by now have gone through 7-on-7s and team camps, but we haven't done any of that. Now, having the whole team together, we can work to prepare as a team instead of in shifts."
Another major item in the release put the decision about having spectators at games in the hands of school systems:
"Guidance regarding stadium seating, concessions, venues and spectators will be coming later from sport administrators. Without going into detail, these decisions will be made on the local level with an expectation of including Department of Health, local health professionals, and school district policies."
None of the northwest Georgia area coaches contacted Thursday had heard anything specific from their school systems.
"They haven't decided about fans, but I'm glad they are leaving it up to the school systems," Campbell said. "You look at a lot of these schools, and some of them are going two days a week for in-person classes, some just online and some a hybrid model. Leaving the rules up to the systems I think is better because they know what the areas are like right now, and they are all a bit different."
Earlier this week the GHSA announced the start of the regular season would be delayed two weeks to Sept. 4. Teams will now have a month in pads and can, unlike programs in Tennessee, scrimmage other teams.
"I really think scrimmaging helps us get prepared for that first game," Campbell said. "It's kind of flip-flopped now with us and Tennessee. They can usually scrimmage a lot and we've been limited in Georgia. That first game in Tennessee will be like a scrimmage for them, so that's going to be tough."