Updated: GHSA advises schools to shut down sports for 2 weeks

The GHSA is recommending that its member schools shut down sports through March 27 after a statement by Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday afternoon asking Georgia schools to consider closing for two weeks because of coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns.

The GHSA also postponed the state literary meet scheduled for Saturday and March 21 in the wake of Kemp’s announcement.

The GHSA cannot shut down regular-season sports contests, only recommend against them, according to GHSA executive director Robin Hines. The GHSA directly controls only state events such as the literary meet or the recently completed state basketball tournament in Macon.

“The regular season belongs to the schools themselves,’’ Hines said in a release Thursday afternoon.  “We can only recommend that they suspend playing. The final decision will rest with the local school systems, but we hope they heed the governor’s and the GHSA’s recommendations.”

The next state tournaments for sports begin April 21 in soccer and tennis. Those in gymnastics, baseball, golf, lacrosse and track and field follow later that week.

Hines had spoken with AJC.com earlier Thursday and said, “If we reached the point to where we felt the evidence required us to recommend that we suspend all sports activities, we would do that.’’ That point came with Kemp’s declaration.

Other states have set precedent this week. Connecticut’s state association on Tuesday became the first to cancel championship sports events when it shut down this weekend’s state tournaments in hockey and basketball. 

Nebraska and Colorado on Wednesday banned fans from their state basketball tournaments. Michigan and Indiana have restricted attendance to parents and essential administrative personnel. Earlier today, North Carolina banned fans from its state finals Saturday in Raleigh.

Some individual school systems in California, New York and other states have shut down or canceled sporting events.

Hines sent letters to each GHSA member school Tuesday stating that the GHSA would support local schools’ decisions to cancel or postpone sporting contests. GHSA schools normally can be fined or forced to forfeit for failing to fulfill conditions of a game contract, but Hines said he would waive penalties if either participating school cited coronavirus as a concern.

According to the CDC, Georgia has 31 confirmed or presumed positive tests for COVID-19, most in metro Atlanta. There has been one confirmed death.

‘’The thing we need to keep in mind is that the risk in Georgia is still very low right now,’’ Hines said earlier Thursday before suspending the literary meet or recommending a shutdown of sports. “That certainly can change, but that’s the information we’re given at this time. There’s not been any guidance other than not to overreact and to do the things you typically would do during flu season, which is washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and if you’re sick don’t go out, those types of things.’’

Hines said recent news of college and professional sports cancellations and suspensions concerned him but didn’t influence him as much as the authority of local health officials, or now the governor.

“We’re still going to lean on the department of public health and the CDC,’’ Hines said. “We don’t want to overreact, but at the same time, we’re going to do what’s safe for student-athletes.’’

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