‘Test efficiently and play ball’

Brookwood and McEachern football teams warm up before the start of their  Corky Kell Classic game Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, at the Mercedes Benz-Stadium in Atlanta.

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Brookwood and McEachern football teams warm up before the start of their Corky Kell Classic game Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, at the Mercedes Benz-Stadium in Atlanta.

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: I.J. Rosenberg, an Atlanta native, played football for Hall of Fame coach Wayman Creel at Lakeside High School and went George Plimpton at the University of Alabama where he wrote a diary for the student newspaper on playing football for the Crimson Tide. He spent 13 years working at the AJC, began his own sports marketing company in 2004 and is part owner of the Corky Kell Classic and other high school events.

Rosenberg: "There are 426 schools that play football in the state and come under the Georgia High School Association. The biggest school in the state is Mill Creek with 3,998 students, and the smallest is Stewart County with 124.

“So how, with the current pandemic, can all these teams get back on the field at the same time? How can school systems make it work and how do they assure parents their children are safe?

“The answer lies in testing. There are various methods of testing that differ in cost and time required for results.

“One method involves combining multiple samples tested, which is referred to as ‘pooling.’ There is an old-fashioned way of pooling tests and now a newer way, using algorithms, where according to computer scientists one test could ‘determine the health status of five, 10, or even more people.’ This method is advantageous in addressing testing shortages.

“Here are how the two ways work:

“We will start with the old way. In a pooled test, you would be combining biological material, like blood or saliva, from a group of players and test that combined material all at once. You could essentially take a team of 100 players and run five tests with 20 players’ samples pooled in each test. This would decrease the testing from 100 down to five. If no one in that combined group is positive then that entire group is cleared to play. The beauty of this is it can be used in areas of Georgia, especially central and southern parts of the state, where the incidence of Covid-19 is lower and bigger groups could be tested at once.

“Conversely, if that pooled test comes back positive, each player who contributed toward that pool will have to be individually tested, requiring an additional 20 tests. Because this type of testing may require two rounds of testing to determine who the positive player(s) is, it may take twice as long as a new method that may soon be available.

“Studies are currently being researched to make the methods more efficient by using math and algorithms to test larger groups, essentially having to solve one giant math word problem. An oversimplified example would be: If Johnny’s blood is dropped into five vats A-E, and Fred’s into vats C-G and Tom’s into vats E-J, if vat D is the positive one, which person is positive? Here you would get answers after the first round of testing requiring more samples, but there would be less test kits and overall time.

“There are a multitude of benefits in weekly testing of a football team. First off, there is peace of mind for the parents of the football players. In addition, you will have gained weekly statistics of that local school to monitor increased cases and weekly figures for that county to monitor the increase of incidence in their county. Thus, the football team acts as a microcosm of the school and the community.

“So, what does all this mean?

“This type of testing could start with each county health department when the football players begin workouts in June, and by the time the season begins in late August, most players may be cleared to begin for the season.

“The coordination of a program like this would take time to organize and money but is a much more definitive and practical way than testing everyone and I not sure that a season can be played without some type of testing as a vaccine at best is more than a few months away.

“A decision must be made. I think the season should be played, but only if there is ample testing that assures our players are safe to return to the sport.”

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'
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