‘Sports, as we know it, are over’


Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

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: Seth Ellerbee, a 2006 graduate of Starr's Mill near Peachtree City, began covering high school sports in 2014 for Score Atlanta where he works full time. In 2016, he took over the Class AAA football blog on ajc.com and has covered the past six football state championships for Score/AJC and championships in other sports. He is, by a long shot, the youngest panelist addressing this issue.

Ellerbee: "High school sports, as we know it, are over until there is a vaccine to treat the coronavirus, and that could take more than a year. It is as simple as that.

“The ‘as we know it’ part encompasses a vast number of changes that could be experienced in the fall, if sports return.

“What are sports as we know it? Fans, concession stands, bathrooms overflowing with people, musky buses, dank locker rooms, cheerleaders, bands, more fans, grandparents in the stands, more concession lines, travel time, celebrations, hugging parents, friends, other fans, seeing all of the administrators at the games, countless fence walkers, full press boxes, rowdy student sections, pep rallies and everything else that goes into a typical Friday night in Georgia.

“All of that is gone until we have a vaccine. There’s no other way around it.

“Can teams take the field? Maybe. Will it be 100 percent safe? No. Is it ever? No. Will adjustments have to be made? Yes, a lot of them. Do players avoid locker rooms? Do they leave the field in their uniforms and gear with parents or in their own cars? Do they enter a tent, one by one, taking off their gear to be washed and properly sanitized elsewhere? Do they shower in smaller groups in the locker room or avoid locker rooms altogether? What will it look like? Will the stands be empty? Should they be?

“If high school sports returns in August, the hardest thing to accept isn’t how to keep kids from getting this virus but how to react when an athlete gets the virus. It is going to happen. It’s almost a statistical certainty.

“Does the GHSA quarantine an entire team or region? That has been discussed. Does the GHSA go back to square one and cancel everything? That’s obviously an option, as well.

“The dilemma of playing high school sports during a pandemic puts everyone — the GHSA, students, administrators and fans — in an impossible position where a decision will have to be made, either reactive or proactive, and that won't be easy.

“As we stand, four months into the pandemic, the virus has infiltrated White House, one of the most secure facilities in the world. That makes me believe it’s going to be really hard to keep it off a football field.”

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