Connection: Executive Order Allows Contact Sports

By Zach Womble for The Gallatin News and Russell Vannozzi for The Robertson County Connection

High school coaches and players across the Midstate breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday afternoon as Gov. Bill Lee announced he will issue Executive Order 55, allowing contact to resume and fall sports to start on time.

Teams must follow the requirements of the TSSAA and non-TSSAA schools must follow equivalent guidelines. Non-school sponsored athletics should follow the updated Tennessee Pledge guidelines.

“We appreciate being able to work with Gov. Lee and his staff on this,” TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said in a press release. “I am pleased that we were able to develop some very specific guidelines for every sport that will allow our kids to get out on their fields and fully participate in football and girls soccer this fall.”

Girls soccer practices can begin as soon as the order is signed. The first contest date remains scheduled for Aug. 17.

Football teams must complete heat acclimatization (two days of helmets only, three days in helmets and shoulder pads) before practicing in full pads, which is now permitted. The first games will be held as scheduled on Aug. 21 and the state championships are still set for Dec. 3-5 in Cookeville.

The three other fall sports – cross country, golf and volleyball – don’t fall in the high-risk category and are also allowed to begin their seasons on time.

Gallatin football coach Chad Watson said he is excited for his players and coaching staff.

“As coaches, we have been preparing our kids as if we would play Week 1 (against Lebanon) even though you think it may not happen in the back of your mind,” Watson said. “But now you get word that it will – (that) just makes me so excited. These coaches have been working extremely hard, and I’m just really excited for those kids and our coaches.”

Pope John Paul II coach Justin Geisinger echoed Watson’s sentiments.

“Phenomenal news. It caught me off guard because this thing had been dragging out for so long,” he said. “We are so excited because I think we are in a good spot. We have been preparing the best we could, and (I) think we will hit the ground running.”

In a Board of Control meeting on July 22, the TSSAA adopted contingency plans and general regulations for how events must be conducted. Full return to play guidelines are available on the TSSAA website.

“This is good news for many kids and their families,” Childress said. “But the reality is that the virus will continue to be with us and we have to be smart about taming the spread. Every adult and every participant in every sport must do their part and follow the guidelines set forth by TSSAA and the Governor’s office to help mitigate these risks.”

2020-21 TSSAA guidelines for practices and games include:

  1. Coaches, players and team personnel are required to have their temperature checked prior to the start of every practice. If their temperature is greater than 100.4, that person or persons would be required to go home and will not be allowed to return until documentation from a doctor shows a negative COVID-19 test. 
  2. No player or coach can participate without prior COVID-19 screening. The screening includes a questionnaire about any symptoms or contact with COVID-19 cases.
  3. At each contest, COVID-19 symptom checklists must be posted prominently. The TSSAA will provide the list.
  4. Schools will be encouraged to limit fan attendance to a number that will adequately allow for social distancing (¼ to ⅓ of typical capacity).
  5. Scrimmages, jamborees, 7-on-7s and any practices with other schools are not permitted. 
  6. At all contests: coaches, players, team personnel, officials, administrators and fans are required to have their temperature checked before entering the facility.
  7. Those who attend games will be required to wear face coverings and will be encouraged to socially distance themselves. 
  8. Host schools are responsible for sanitizing facilities. Frequent cleaning is encouraged.
  9. Concession stands will be discouraged. If a school chooses to have one, they are asked to limit the number of workers and crowd/line size outside of the stand. 
  10. Coaches must complete the NFHS online course, “COVID-19 for Coaches and Administrators.”
  11. Public address announcers must make frequent reminders encouraging fans to remain socially distant and to wear their facial coverings.

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