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Staff photo / East Hamilton football coaches Grant Reynolds, left, and Stephen Garland talk as practice wraps up in Ooltewah last July 29, the first day of practice for the 2019 season. When TSSAA teams, as well as those in the GHSA, will begin official practices for this season is not yet known as coronavirus restrictions remain in place for some.

Although prep football coaches in Tennessee and Georgia are anxious to begin offseason workouts, or at least have a statewide guideline in place for all teams to follow, their state athletic associations have forced them to pump the brakes.

At least for now.

The TSSAA this past week held online video conferences with medical experts, school superintendents and athletic directors to discuss guidelines for returning to sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the association has not released an official plan for coaches to follow.

On Friday, TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress reiterated all coaches should follow the association's sports calendar as well as the guidelines laid out by Gov. Bill Lee and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concerning social distancing and limiting workouts to groups of no more than 10.

"The biggest things we discussed during our meetings were the opinions of school directors in terms of when they expect to return to school," Childress said. "Before we can look at any plan that would get us back on the field to play, we have to get schools started back in session.

"When and if schools reopen, then we'll follow the recommendation of the state medical experts we're working with to determine a timeline to return to play. Every state is going to be different in terms of when and how they allow players and teams to return, and right now we're still at least a couple of weeks from determining what we will recommend."

Childress added that so long as the individual school systems allow it, teams can begin workouts and conditioning as coaches and administrators see fit. Because the TSSAA has left it up to individual school systems to determine what can be done in terms of workouts, though, some football teams have already begun weightlifting and conditioning, while others are not yet allowed to do so.

"It's kind of frustrating to see teams in other counties are getting a head start on working out, but for us, trying to get information for how to start our sport back safely has been frustrating," East Hamilton coach Grant Reynolds said.

Bradley Central will begin workouts May 25, with players meeting in groups of 10 to lift and condition. Teams in Marion County will begin working out in a similar format June 1. Hamilton County athletic director Brad Jackson is a member of the TSSAA's medical advisory committee and said he has informed all public school coaches in the county that it will be at least June 1 before they would be allowed to begin workouts.

"We want to give it a little more time to see where we are with the virus," Jackson said. "The national federation (of high school sports) is meeting and will give instructions for the individual states to follow. We'll look at those and see where Hamilton County is in regards to the coronavirus, and then I will meet with (Hamilton County superintendent) Dr. (Bryan) Johnson to lay out the plan for our local coaches. We should be able to tell them something about a week before June 1 so they can start planning."

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Staff photo / East Hamilton football players run during their first official preseason practice for 2019 last July 29 in Ooltewah.

In Georgia, the GHSA this past week rebuffed a report that a plan was in place to resume "normal" activities for a start to the football regular season on Aug. 21. GHSA executive director Robin Hines said he hopes continued progress in getting the virus under control will lead to a plan soon.

"We are meeting with our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and gathering information from many different sources," Hines said in a released statement. "We are hopeful for a measured return with restrictions in June, and hopefully the data will continue to support this effort. We will put a plan together as soon as possible for the Board of Trustees to consider and let you know as soon as this is completed. Until that time, all GHSA sports and activities are suspended."

Northwest Georgia football coaches and athletic administrators confirmed no plan is in place, though a recent ruling by Gov. Brian Kemp opens up the return of summer camps for kids and expands the maximum number of participants from 10 to 20. The ruling could lead to a formal GHSA plan, according to Heritage High School athletic director Eric Schexnaildre.

"I'm hoping they were waiting on the governor to say something, and then Dr. Hines will come out and make his recommendations," Schexnaildre said. "We already have protocols in place for on-campus workouts, and at the end of the day it will be up to local school systems.

"There will be football. It will just look a bit different."

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Staff photo / Ridgeland football players run onto the field before a region matchup against Northwest Whitfield last Oct. 4 in Rossville, Ga.

Until an official plan is implemented, though, coaches and administrators are hoping for the best and planning for several scenarios.

"We are doing like every other school around and trying to keep our kids and everyone safe and healthy," Ridgeland football coach Kip Klein said. "We have looked at many plans for the possible return and normalcy, and if we are able to be back in June that would be awesome. Our guys would be back on almost a normal summer routine.

"In my best guess, I would hope that we could get our kids back just after July 4th week. However, for people my age and even older, we can remember when football didn't start until August and you had four weeks until a jamboree and then games. It can be done, and if anything, coaches and players are resilient."

The sudden surge in optimism didn't stop one Georgia school from canceling fall sports. Riverside Military Academy, an all-boys' school in Gainesville, made the announcement Thursday, ending football and cross country seasons before they began.

"Having a safe and a healthy fall season requires substantial planning, writing of contracts and early equipment purchases, all of which would be binding even if the season remains banned by GHSA," the school explained in a released statement. "We are planning for limited winter and spring sports in anticipation that the ban will ease at a point that provides enough time for us to execute appropriately."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis. Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.

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