The TSSAA and the GHSA have released official guidelines for the return of offseason workouts for all of their sanctioned sports, including football, as the nation begins to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On the heels of an online meeting the National Federation of High Schools held with state associations, governing bodies for both Tennessee and Georgia sent out guidelines for returning to play for their member schools Friday.
While teams in Tennessee were not given a specific date to begin — the TSSAA is leaving it up to individual counties to implement start dates — Hamilton County coaches have been told they can hold workouts June 1. Most other outlying counties in the Chattanooga area have also instructed teams to wait until then before beginning workouts, while some regions — Knoxville, Maryville and parts of the mid-state area — have already begun.
"It was good to have some official word from the state and our county leaders to support what we already had figured and planned for," Red Bank football coach Chris Brown said. "We had already put together a plan and were just waiting to see if we would need to tweak it. Our kids and families have been really patient, and we've been up front with them that we were waiting on the county to give us the information on how to move forward.
"It was great to get to tell all our kids that we can start back soon and watch them explode with excitement."
The GHSA also considered June 1 but pushed back the start date for Georgia teams until June 8 due to concerns from larger school systems in the Atlanta area that there wasn't sufficient time to implement the plan.
It has been recommended to teams in both states that they follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outline of limiting workout groups to no more than 10 people, maintaining social distancing, cleaning all workout equipment after each athlete uses it, supplying hand sanitizer and checking the temperature of players before each day's workout begins. No use of locker rooms or shower facilities should be permitted, and each athlete must bring her or his own personal water bottle.
Although Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Thursday that the state would begin allowing groups of up to 50 to gather, the TSSAA is leaving it up to the individual school districts to determine whether they will allow that many players to work out together or instead remain at the first phase's limit of 10.
Teams in Tennessee will have three weeks to work out before the TSSAA-mandated dead period, which runs from June 22 to July 5.
"I feel like the governor's ordinance is more about everyday life instead of something that's recommended for a high-contact sport like football right now," Brown said. "We want to stress what's best for the safety of our players, their families and our community. We're good with going with the plan we have in place and then reassessing if we can expand on the number of people in groups when we come back from the dead period."
Coaches across northwest Georgia are thankful a plan is in place and know the regulations put in place are done so to keep players safe from infection from the virus. However, weeks of possible inactivity could put athletes at increased risk of injury, so with an eye on the upcoming football season, most area coaches also believe it is time to begin conditioning.
"I want our players safe," Northwest Whitfield coach Josh Robinson said. "However, I also want them safe for the season and believe it should and will happen. In order to do that, we have to get these young men physically prepared. It was disappointing not having spring football for the first time in 21 years. What is even more disappointing is that these young men are not getting to prepare their bodies appropriately for the season. The sooner we can get back, the better."
Whether the season begins as hoped for on time in August will be an ongoing discussion in Georgia and Tennessee and will be determined by many factors. Right now, though, just the thought of getting athletes back into a routine can be considered a big win.
"At this point, we are just happy to have our kids back on campus and looking at each other face to face," Ridgeland football coach Kip Klein said. "Just being able to reconnect with some of them and give them a little bit of structure during the day will be very beneficial."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis. Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.