As the coronavirus pandemic lingers, there continues to be more question than answers throughout much of society.
The world of high school athletics is no different.
Among the questions prep coaches and administrators are contemplating is when might be the proper time for high school and other fall sports to return.
No one has definitive answers as the severity and timing of the virus has been different from state to state and even within the individual states themselves.
In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards has hinted a limited lifting of restrictions might begin May 15.
“Everybody has heard that May 15 date. I think some people think May 15 is going to come, the governor will wave a magic wand and we go back to how we were way back in March. I don’t think that’s what it’s going to be,” said Dwain Jenkins, Lutcher’s athletic director and head football coach.
“What I hope we are allowed to do,” Jenkins added, “is to start having some contact with our student athletes in small-group settings with the idea of trying to get kids in shape and trying to do some preventative exercises to hopefully reduce the risk of injury, when and if we get to start the season. It will take a lot of coordination and the way that things have been done to do it.”
What might be a potential start date for the resumption of prep athletic activities?
“Our best scenario is a July 1 start, which will give you six weeks. It will give you four weeks in July and two in August to get ready for a scrimmage and all that. Anything before that, will be ideal, then we will adjust it accordingly,” said Robert Valdez, head football coach and athletic director at St. James.
“That’s probably your best-case scenario,” said Jenkins.
Jenkins said he had as conversation with St. Charles Catholic coach Frank Monica concerning the subject. Monica, the Hall of Fame coach, has recommended the Louisiana High School Athletic Association set a target date.
“I think July 6, which is the Monday after the Fourth of July, is a date coach Monica and I have talked about. That’s hoping everything stays on track and goes very well,” said Jenkins.
“It’s a Monday and everybody gets to start fresh. It gives you a chance to condition your athletes and give you about a month going into the season,” Monica said.
What it also would do, said Monica, is provide the same starting date for all schools.
“Somebody needed to take a leadership role and pick a date where we would at least agree to do something and all start at the same time. That’s my big thing. If not, if it’s just left up to the individual schools, there will be some people who will be allowed to open and work and do some other things that others won’t,” said Monica.
That date, Monica said, would not necessarily be set in stone.
“By setting a date, what I mean by that, is the governor pushes his date and slides it back, then everything slides. The date has been a moving target since this thing started way back in March,” said Monica.
That date, Monica added, also should provide some clarity to the situation.
“July is two months away,” the St. Charles coach said. “I think two months from now we will have an even better handle on what we need to do.”
Still, with phased reopening, what players and coaches will and will not be able to do is up in the air?
For example, when might teams be able to gather in groups? What will be the size of those groups? How will they be accommodated in an age of social distancing, which is likely to remain, even when restrictions are lifted?
“You are talking about reducing the number of kids that are in and out of a weight room and locker room at any certain of time, the number of coaches that are in and out, and the ability to safely sanitize that facility for its use in multiple sessions throughout the day,” Jenkins pointed out.
There has been talk on all level of athletics of playing games without fans or limiting capacity while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines.
That brings up another question: if decision makers opt for games with no fans or limited access with social distancing, how do you allow a physical sport like football to take place when there is blocking and tackling on each play?
“That was one of the questions that I’ve had,” said Jenkins, “and that’s one of my big concerns is nobody is talking about is, I can see a volleyball game taking place – separate teams, not a whole lot of physical contact, a ball being the only thing that’s touched by multiple people.
“That whole thought of football and the nature of the game is contact. There is no way take the contact out of the game. I think that’s a question that I don’t think anybody wants to tackle that one and hope everything kind of falls into place.”
The Lutcher coach offered another observation.
“Will football be safe to play because of the social distancing aspect. That’s the worst case, and I hope we are never going to have to have that discussion.”