Mill Creek football coach Josh Lovelady was at work at 5 a.m. Monday setting up check-in tables and putting out orange cones for 170 football players who would arrive in waves of 20 all day.
It would be a 14-hour shift, the first of several this week. And Lovelady was loving it.
“Somebody here was saying the other day that absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Lovelady said. “That phrase has resonated among us coaches. The fieldhouse has been empty for so long. We miss our players. This is like Christmas.”
Monday was the first day that Georgia high school sports teams were allowed to resume sports — for conditioning only — since the Georgia High School Association shut down sports activities in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Metro Atlanta sports teams in Bartow, Coweta, Fayette, Forsyth, Gwinnett and Hall counties were lifting weights and running sprints Monday. Cherokee County schools will start Wednesday.
A majority of metro Atlanta schools, including those in the Cobb, Fulton and Atlanta city school systems, are waiting a week to give themselves more time to meet the GHSA’s guidelines on group size, social distancing and sanitization.
Inconveniences aside, the players shared their coaches’ enthusiasm.
“The excitement is at a whole new level,” said Marcus Brand, a rising senior wide receiver and defensive back at Mountain View. “When a game you love so much is taken away for so long, and it keeps getting pushed back and back, finally when it comes, everybody’s level is really high and they’re ready to work.”
Brand and other Mountain View players had their temperatures checked as they signed in. They were asked if they’d had a recent fever, been diagnosed with COVID-19 or been in contact with anyone who had or traveled to a COVID-19 “hot spot.”
Brand said one teammate was sent home, though not because of his answers. He was just late. “That just showed they don’t play any games,” Brand said.
Richard Morgan, coach of 2019 Class AAAAAAA champion Marietta, described the mood as “contained excitement.” Social distancing was conspicuous.
“Everybody’s happy to be back working, but you can’t be overly excited with each other because you have to observe guidelines and boundaries,’’ Morgan said. “Everybody wanted to give hugs and say hello, but you really can’t.’’
Marietta, a city school that opened while surrounding Cobb County schools held off, required its athletes to wear face coverings while lifting weights. They could remove them when outside for speed and agility work. The GHSA recommends face covering but doesn’t mandate it, and photographs on social media suggested Marietta was in the minority.
“We don’t want any setbacks,” Morgan said, “so we’re going to be as safe as we can.”
West Forsyth coach Dave Svehla said his biggest challenge has been coordinating eight groups of 20. The GHSA doesn’t allow athletes to change groups over the summer.
“Our coaching staff has spent hours just trying to get groups together so that you can be as efficient as possible,” Svehla said. “Kids have summer schedules, say a kid’s playing baseball, and you can’t just show up one group one day and another the next.’’
Svehla has the added challenge of being new to his school. The head coach at Etowah last season, Svehla got the West Forsyth job in February and had three weeks to meet players in person before the school closed. He didn’t get a spring practice.
But he sees one positive. His players are hungrier than usual to impress new coaches and get to work.
“Football is a grind, and you don’t realize how much you miss it until you’re not playing it,” Svehla said. “They got to miss it. They’re excited to see get back on campus and see their friends again. The energy level and excitement, at least this first week, is going to be pretty high.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.