CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN/WJHL) — This week marks the first of Friday night football of the 2021 season, and already nine games are impacted by COVID-19.
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) board voted Monday to essentially keep the gameday COVID protocol from last fall.
TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress told News 2 nine high school football games this week have been postponed across the state.
“This delta variant is attacking our young people more than it is anyone else and our school people are well aware of that, we want to make sure we emphasize to them, we’re going to do everything we possibly can to make sure our student athletes are safe at all times. We do have protocols in place they are not as strict as they were this time last year,” explained Childress.
The Happy Valley High School Warriors in East Tennessee had to postpone its season opener with Cloudland this Friday due to “a COVID situation.”
This means that if a school has to postpone the game due to COVID, the first option would be for schools to explore possible options to make that contest up at a later date.
If that can’t be worked out, the opposing team receives a win for seeding purposes, which Matthew Gillespie, Assistant executive director of TSSAA, said they have to look at for the postseason and setting the brackets, but the team that has to postpone due to COVID does not receive a loss in that case.
“So, in football, if the game is not made up and the team cannot play due to COVID as the visiting team, then next year they would remain the visiting team because a gate loss for that host team is certainly a concern, and the board wanted to address that at the meeting,” Gillespie explained.
The TSSAA regulates high schools sports. Last year, crowd capacity limits were places on spectators, masks were required and games were oftentimes offered virtually as well. This year, that is not the case.
“Of course, things look a little different this year than they did last year, but we still have to be cognizant of everything with cases rising and the new variant out there, so I think we’re certainly being cautious about that,” Gillespie said.
He said that no mandates are being imposed in terms of masking, vaccinations, or crowd capping, but he said with COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, that might change.
“We’re not there yet, and hopefully we don’t have to go back to it, but it is a fluid situation — one that we’re constantly keeping our eye on,” Gillespie added.
As of Thursday, no school district in Northeast Tennessee has announced plans to implement such proposed mandates, but rather mirrors the TSSAA policy to recommend those COVID-19 mitigation strategies.
Washington County Tenn. Director of Schools Jerry Boyd said masks are recommended at practice and games, but that practicality should be considered.
“In an environment like practice, masks may not be practical, and they’re deemed impractical in a lot of athletic situations, but you can consider wearing a mask and encourage those to look at vaccination as an option for them, consult with their doctor and make sure it’s something they should do and would do,” Boyd suggested.
He said the school district relies heavily on parents to monitor their children at home and older students to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 and to take steps to isolate themselves where necessary.
At sporting events, Boyd urged spectators to get vaccinated if they are eligible but to mask up when social distancing becomes impossible so as to not become a COVID-19 close contact.
“The definition of close contact is 15 minutes,” he said. “So, just consider those things to protect yourself and others.”
In a statement from Bristol Tenn. City Schools Athletic Director Barry Wade, News Channel 11 learned that the school district also does not plan to implement a mask mandate. The statement explained that the district’s athletic department has a set of COVID-19 protocols it follows.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes and coaches is our first priority…The important aspects of the protocols linked above are more frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces and social distancing where possible. We require masks on buses. In an effort to protect those who participate in our athletic programs from unnecessary exposure to illness, we also follow the same guidelines for sick or quarantined student-athletes and coaches as we do for students and staff…There are no mask mandates or social distancing mandates for games, and there’s no cap on game attendance. As we have done since the beginning of the pandemic, we are monitoring the situation and are prepared to adjust protocols.Statement from Bristol TN City Schools Athletic Director Barry Wade
Kingsport City Schools Assistant Superintendent Andy True said the district might not be mandating masks, but is taking other steps to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“There are some operational things that we have put into place for particular like for football season this year, being able to have electronic ticketing for guests as they come into the stadium,” True said. “Electronic transactions when it comes to concessions so you can have a cashless transaction at concession stands. Putting those kinds of precautions in place so that folks have the ability to be able to have a cashless transaction when they want to buy concession or if they want to have electronic ticketing that they have the option to do that, to be able to provide another layer of support to our, to our game night experience.”
Another precaution Kingsport City schools plan to implement is COVID-19 testing at school clinics for students and staff. True said that the district is a part of the ELC grant program that was offered through the state.
“We look to have that in place within the next few weeks so that we would be able to provide COVID testing for folks that are symptomatic, so we’re excited to be able to offer that,” he said. “That will be available for staff and students with parental consent,” True said.
Permission slips had before been sent to parents this year, True explained, but this could be looked at again as the testing becomes available to the school system.
“We’re pleased that’ll be a part of our mitigation strategy as we go through this year able to offer that kind of testing to our students and our staff,” he said.
Boyd said testing is not available at Washington County Schools, but that COVID-19 testing is widely available in the community. He urged staff and students to take advantage of those services if they become symptomatic or exposed to COVID.