Fulton schools to delay opening sports one week; other metro districts could follow

Footballs are placed at midfield before a game at Roswell High School in Roswell.
Footballs are placed at midfield before a game at Roswell High School in Roswell.

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Fulton County high schools are delaying the reopening of sports conditioning until June 15, a week later than allowed, and some other large metro Atlanta school systems likely will follow suit.

Georgia High School Association executive director Robin Hines announced last week that schools can resume restricted sports activities June 8. Hines shut down sports in March over COVID-19 concerns.

Fulton County is the first school system to announce it is giving itself more time.

“We have 16 high schools, so we want to make sure we’ve got our procedures clearly defined so that we can communicate those procedures to our coaches, student athletes and community,” Fulton County athletic director Stephen Craft said. “That extra time allows us to make sure we can bring them back in the safest environment.’’

Clayton County is not planning to open on the June 8 date set last week by the GHSA, though no decision has been made.

Atlanta Public Schools also is unlikely to start June 8. Superintendent Meria Joel Carstarphen is holding a town hall meeting with district employees Tuesday afternoon to discuss this and other issues, according to athletic director Jasper Jewell. A decision could be made at that time.

“My personal recommendation would be possibly June 15, just like Fulton County,” Jewell said. “It gives us an opportunity to plan and prepare because the difference with us (and other metro Atlanta systems) is we have multiple schools we oversee. If I were a one-school district, we’d have time to get our ducks in a row. But I have 11. I have to make sure the athletic directors understand what’s expected of them and have ample supplies and can disseminate everything to their coaches.”

Henry, DeKalb and Cherokee schools have meetings scheduled Wednesday or later this week that could result in decisions.

Cobb and Gwinnett, the state’s two largest school systems, have not announced their start dates but appear more likely than others to start June 8.

‘’We are shooting for the 8th, but nothing is solidified yet,’’ Gwinnett athletic director Ed Shaddix said.

Forsyth County also is aiming for June 8 for its six high schools, according to district athletic director Nathan Turner.

“We here in Forsyth are working as hard as we can to start June 8 and meet the GHSA guidelines,” Turner said. “Being a multi-high school district, that takes planning and preparation, so as long as we meet those regulations on time, we should be good for June 8.”

Hines last week proposed a June 1 restart date at a GHSA trustees meeting, but a few trustees, including Craft and Jewell, pushed back and recommended June 8 statewide. Hines and the board consented.

Another board member who supported the later date was Curt Miller, athletic director of Henry County schools. Miller said that Henry County’s superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis would be meeting with her executive cabinet Wednesday, when a decision for Henry might come down. Henry County has 10 GHSA high schools.

“I just want to make sure our schools and district can fully implement a plan that can be efficient and safe but not too cumbersome,” Miller said. “It is going to take great communication between all groups, but we will get to that point very soon.”

Clayton County hasn’t set a time to make a final decision, but a June 8 start appears unlikely.

“We have no plans to begin June 8,” Clayton County athletic director Kevin May said. “We’ve seen the guidance from the GHSA, and we’re looking at all those factors and how that would come to play on our campus, and we’re doing our due diligence before moving forward to ensure safety to student-athletes and coaches.”

The sports activities allowed beginning June 8 are limited to conditioning, which means weight lifting, speed and agility, but unlike the typical summer, the GHSA is not allowing sports-specific equipment or scrimmages and is imposing several social-distancing and other safety measures. Summer workouts are voluntary for schools and their athletes.

The official start of fall sports — when coaches can have mandatory practices with full teams — is Aug. 1 for volleyball, cheerleading, cross country and softball. Football practice can begin July 27 without full pads.

The first permissible game dates range from Aug. 6 for softball and Aug. 21 for football.

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