This story was updated Friday, March 13, 2020, at 9:10 p.m. with more information.
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The uncertainty surrounding area high school sports continued to spread Friday when Hamilton County Schools athletic director Brad Jackson notified coaches throughout the county that all secondary athletics have been suspended until March 30 because of concerns over the coronavirus.
That means all TSSAA-sanctioned spring sports — baseball, soccer, softball, tennis and track and field — at the high school and middle school levels will not be allowed to play games or conduct practice. Hamilton County schools already had been announced as closed for the next two weeks.
"You see the domino effect across the country," Jackson said. "When the NCAA canceled March Madness, that put it in perspective of just how big this is. We've been in constant contact with the state department of education and the TSSAA, and we're listening to the recommendations of the experts those folks have been communicating with.
"We try to look at it as to what's fair to the players and coaches who have devoted so much time to prepare for the season but also weigh the safety of the kids and their families. I love athletics — that's why I'm in this business. But we also have to put into perspective that athletics is not life and death and the situation we're facing with this virus is.
"We're going to suspend games and practice until the end of this month, and then we will reevaluate what we need to do. The safety of the kids comes first. If we can prevent them from taking it home and passing it to a family member, then postponing sports is worth it."
Public schools are not the only local ones that have suspended play. Division II schools Baylor, Chattanooga Christian and McCallie will have online classes only but no athletic events until April 13. Although Notre Dame has not yet canceled classes, the school has suspended all athletic events until April 13. Boyd Buchanan has closed school and suspended athletic events until March 30, while Silverdale Baptist Academy has delayed its athletic events until March 22, as of now.
Administrators at each of those schools said they will monitor events before deciding whether to extend the suspensions of their athletic calendars or return to the field.
"As of right now the TSSAA is leaving the decision up to the individual school systems on how to handle letting teams play," Jackson added. "From the information we have gathered, we felt it was in the best interest of our schools' teams to postpone spring sports for a few weeks and then come back to see where we stand at the end of the month."
The announcement comes one day after the TSSAA decided to suspend the girls' and boys' state basketball tournaments indefinitely. Class AAA's Cleveland is the only Chattanooga-area public school that qualified for the boys' state tournament and was scheduled to play Whitehaven at 11 a.m. EDT next Wednesday.
TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said the association's board of control will meet early next week to determine whether those tournaments will be resumed or canceled outright.
The TSSAA also released a statement Friday to explain that even an abbreviated regular season would not prevent the Spring Fling — the state tournament for all spring sports — from happening as scheduled in late May.
"The process of deciding what to do with the state basketball tournaments can't go on long," Childress said. "We're dealing with a totally different situation than the college game, because we have so many student-athletes who participate in spring sports. It's also not fair to the schools to keep them hanging on with this.
"The board will have a tough decision to make. Once we have our board meeting on Tuesday, we will have a final decision on which direction we're going with that. As far as the spring sports, we already called a staff meeting to deal strictly with those issues, and we will just have to let the spring sports season play out week to week and make a decision as we go.
"There is still a path to having the season for spring sports and the state tournament, but if we can't play the district tournaments in time to have the postseason produce state-tournament qualifiers, then obviously there's no way we can have a Spring Fling."
On board with GHSA break
All northwest Georgia school districts have confirmed that spring sports competition has been postponed through at least March 27 in accordance with recommendations from the Georgia High School Association.
Representatives from the GHSA and the state's regions will then meet to determine if and when to resume competition.
"Our guidelines include that from Monday 3/16 through Saturday 3/28, all team/individual practices, games and matches are suspended," Heritage High School athletic director Eric Schexnaildre wrote in an email. "Students cannot be on campus for any reason, and there cannot be any contact between players and coaches on or off campus until Saturday 3/28. As to the remainder of our seasons, we will revisit the completion of our games/matches within the next two weeks."