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Sports teams resume workouts as GHSA, Hines keep watchful eye

ajc.com

Three weeks ahead of the official start of football practice, Georgia high school sports teams resumed voluntary summer workouts Monday with permission to begin competitive one-on-one drills for the first time.

For football teams, the new rules allow 7-on-7 passing drills between offenses and defenses, although they must be intrasquad and conducted without helmets or pads. Volleyball teams also can have intrasquad scrimmages, and baseball and softball teams can have pitchers throwing to batters.

For a few teams, Monday meant the start of conditioning. Rockdale County schools didn’t let their teams to begin until July, four weeks after the June 8 start allowed by the Georgia High School Association.

In further easing restrictions coming off the GHSA’s mandatory dead week, executive director Robin Hines offered some insights into factors that guide his decisions on reopening.

One is school systems’ willingness to open with traditional classes. So far, all 181 Georgia school districts are still aiming for that.

“My thought is, if we’re going to gather all these kids to go to school, they need to have activities as well,’’ Hines said. “I don’t think an activity after school, playing ball, running cross country, is going to be any more lenient as far as spreading a virus than being in a large high school.’’

Another variable is the COVID-19 fatality rate among teenagers, which remains low. Of the 2,860 who have died in Georgia, two are under age 20. Hines acknowledged concern over the recent rise in cases in the 18-35 group.

Both of those situations are fluid. Hines meets weekly with his sports-medicine council to get updates on COVID-19 cases and trends.

As for school systems, short of a mandate by the governor, they largely are free to tweak their schedules and govern the participation of their sports teams.

Glynn Academy and Long County High in southeast Georgia resumed workouts Monday after positive COVID-19 tests on their football teams forced a three-week stoppage.

Fulton and Cobb county schools last week announced they were pushing back their start dates for classes a week or two to Aug. 17. Each will give its students the option to attend or learn remotely.

Some states, including Florida, Mississippi and Michigan, have considered flipping the fall and spring sports seasons, which would put baseball in the fall and football in the winter or spring.

Hines acknowledged that has been discussed within the GHSA, but he doesn’t favor flipping seasons. “There’s not a lot of people in the country that are for that,’’ he said.

Hines also emphasized that while he’s optimistic about fall sports, he’s not afraid to shut them down, as he did in March.

“If we weren’t willing to put on the brakes, we shouldn’t be willing to move forward,’’ Hines said. “So if indications are we’re in a bad place and need to be restrictive, we’ll do that. I still pray that things work out for the best and we’ll be able to start on time.’’

Summer workouts are voluntary for schools and athletes. Football teams can hold mandatory practices beginning July 27. Volleyball, softball, cross country and cheerleading can begin Aug. 1. The first football games are scheduled for Aug. 19.

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