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The winter sports prep season for Hamilton County schools, which has been postponed since early December, could resume in one week.

Boys' and girls' basketball teams as well as wrestlers at high schools across Hamilton County had their seasons postponed on December 11 due to a spike in the number of coronavirus cases in the county. At that time, Hamilton County school superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson set Jan 4 as the day teams could return to practice and Jan. 11 as the return to play date. Dr. Johnson recently pushed back the start date for practice by two days, but the return to play date currently remains the same as originally planned.

"Superintendent Johnson and his leadership team have informed schools that they can begin practicing again on Wednesday," said county athletic director Brad Jackson. "Depending on the new information we get on where we stand with COVID-19 numbers in the county, they may be able to play games again starting Monday. We will let coaches know on Tuesday what the plan is for when they can return to play.

"That will depend on where we stand now with the number of cases in our county."

Hamilton County schools return to session on Jan. 6 but all classes will remain virtual this week.

"Of course once teams do return to play they must follow the new TSSAA guidelines as far as who is allowed to attend games," Jackson added. "We'll have to figure out logistically how to handle the ticket sales for games then."

On Dec. 21, one day after Gov. Bill Lee issued Executive Order No. 70 — which limits the number of people allowed to gather in a group setting — the TSSAA announced new restrictions on who will be allowed to attend high school athletic events statewide.

The restrictions will limit attendees for practices and games to players' parents or guardians and immediate household members, first responders, coaching and team personnel, school, game and facility administrators, athletic officials, media and athletic scouting personnel working in a professional capacity.

Social distancing between persons from different households is also required. While the Executive Order does not mandate the use of masks, Gov. Lee has encouraged masks to be worn.

"Unfortunately, large scale attendance by spectators and students must be curtailed," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said upon announcing the restrictions. "Doing so means that bands, pep bands, cheerleaders, and dance teams may not attend athletic contests while these restrictions remain in place.

"TSSAA concurs with the Governor's office that these restrictions represent the best means for us to continue providing interscholastic athletic participation opportunities to our student-athletes. We remain hopeful that we will soon begin to see a decline in the instances of infection and that our schools will soon be able to return to more normal operation of their athletic competition."

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

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