‘Hopeful, but not overly optimistic’

ajc.com

Credit: Casey Sykes

Credit: Casey Sykes

For the past seven weeks, the AJC has provided an At Issue platform in which 35 coaches, administrators and area sports figures discussed important issues affecting Georgia's high school sports. | More: At Issue topics

But in the final analysis, and this final installment, there is only one issue that matters: Will high school football and the other sports resume in August? Should high school football and the other sports resume in August? And what will high school football and other sports look like if they return in August?

To get to this answer, five people who have played, covered or directed coverage of GHSA sports for a combined 200-or-so years provide their opinions. The list includes former AJC writer I.J. Rosenberg, who founded Score Atlanta in 2004, and Seth Ellerbee, a Score Atlanta writer who authored the At Issue project and covers Class AAA for ajc.com; former AJC staffers Todd Holcomb and Chip Saye, who co-founded Georgia High School Football Daily in 2009. Both companies partner with the AJC under contract status.

And there’s Tim Ellerbee, who retired from the AJC in 2014, but continues to direct the AJC’s high school coverage under contract status.

As you might expect, the opinions vary.

The skinny: Chip Saye began going to high school football games at age 6 in 1970, when his father took him to watch Henderson (where he would later attend), Lakeside and other DeKalb County schools play at DeKalb Memorial and Adams stadiums. Saye has covered games for four newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, since 1984. He is also the co-founder and co-producer of the Georgia High School Football Daily email newsletter.

Saye: "I, for one, can't wait to see the Falcons, the local colleges and the state's 400-plus high school football teams hit the field this fall.

“Obviously, 2020 will be different from previous seasons because of the coronavirus pandemic. The protocols that will be mandated regarding liability, insurance, player testing, player illnesses, fan attendance and more will be unlike anything the schools have ever faced, but a plan could be put in place to overcome those issues and greatly minimize risk.

“The COVID-19 data being tracked by the Georgia Department of Public Health is encouraging. The original goal of flattening the curve was accomplished last month, and the numbers of daily positive tests, deaths, hospitalizations and ventilator use are now in steady decline. In fact, Georgia was among the first states to push forward with its re-opening, and roughly three weeks since that decision we have not seen the spikes in those numbers that many thought were inevitable.

“The reality, though, is that our state government officials and the Georgia High School Association leadership can only provide overall guidance, and the decision of whether to play ultimately will fall on local school boards, individual schools and parents. Not all of them will want to see football resume.

“From a logistical standpoint, that will create challenges. What happens if some schools choose to play and others don’t? What happens if a school announces its plans to play but then has only a few kids come out for the team, or if it starts the season but has to shut down because players start getting sick?

“The GHSA will need to have answers to those questions and a lot more and be prepared to respond to every situation. If not, the season might have to be called off before its conclusion, and that could be worse than not playing it at all. Just ask the spring-sports athletes who had their seasons abruptly ended in March.

“I’m hopeful that the football season begins on schedule in August, and if it does I’ll be there every Friday night to watch the games. I’m just not overly optimistic it’s going to happen.”

AT ISSUE: Should they play?

• In 'October, if we're lucky'
• 'Test efficiently and play ball'
• 'Flip the schedule. Buy time'
• 'Hopeful, but not optimistic'
• 'Sports, as we know it, are over'
» MORE: Previous topics

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