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Staff photo / Lookout Valley football players practice last Aug. 5. Although they won't put on full pads for weeks, TSSAA teams have returned to conditioning and drills after a long layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the TSSAA will keep its annual two-week dead period — during which teams are not allowed to work with coaches or on campuses — in place this year despite the extended break.

After a spring in which nothing involving high school sports went as scheduled, the TSSAA has determined the two-week summer dead period will remain business as usual.

There had been a recent push from a good portion of the state's prep coaches to waive the annual dead period, which prohibits athletes and teams from working out with coaches or on school grounds; that led to the TSSAA Legislative Council holding a virtual meeting Thursday to decide the issue. Those coaches felt the dead period, which will run from June 22 through July 5, should be lifted this year because teams had already gone more than two months without being allowed to gather for workouts or practices due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The vote ended in a 6-6 deadlock, which by TSSAA bylaws means the motion to suspend the dead period failed.

TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress addressed the council before the vote and said it was his recommendation to keep the dead period in place.

"Think seriously about if we're putting sports ahead of family," Childress said. "That's not what we want to stand for.

"The pandemic is making the decisions right now. We put in that two-week dead period to let kids be kids. We still need to allow them to be kids and have some consideration for the families who have planned vacations."

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Staff photo / Baylor football coach Phil Massey watches as the Red Raiders go through 7-on-7 work last July.

In most years the dead period is a good idea because it gives athletes a break and allows them some rest before the grind of serious workouts, practices and the season begin taking up their free time. But after several months of being told to stay away from each other, there's a psychological factor for some kids who need the positive surroundings of their team and coaches.

And I can name at least five Chattanooga-area teams off the top of my head with coaches who provide not only structure but in some cases the only hearty meal of the day. Since the pandemic started, Howard football coach John Starr went from serving his players — and others in need — breakfast at school each morning to delivering boxes of food to as many as 40 kids each day.

With the unemployment rate skyrocketing to levels rivaling those of the Great Depression, there are also more high school kids whose families simply can't afford to take a vacation this year and whose parents hope to be back at their jobs working during that two-week dead period.

After speaking with players at several local schools this week, the majority of them admitted they would much prefer to be with their teammates and coaches working out instead of stuck at home.

What would've likely worked better would have been if the TSSAA had waived the dead period just for this year, then left it up to the individual coaches to allow players whose families did have a vacation planned to go without being punished. Once they returned, those players would have only missed a few days of workouts, but the majority of players would have at least gained back two weeks of conditioning lost in the spring.

As it is, most teams began conditioning this week while some had already begun last week — depending on what each county policy allowed. If the dead period had been suspended, it would have meant about six straight months of either working out or playing the season without a break.

However, after nearly three months without any prep sports, I doubt there would be much complaint about a possible overload in the fall.

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Times Free Press sports editor Stephen Hargis

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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