Smyrna closes park after groups violate social distancing guidelines

The city of Smyrna on Tuesday closed Riverline Park  due to “continual and large scale activity,” according to its Facebook page.
The city of Smyrna on Tuesday closed Riverline Park  due to “continual and large scale activity,” according to its Facebook page.

Credit: City of Smyrna

Credit: City of Smyrna

A metro Atlanta city said it had to close one of its parks after several groups of people violated social distancing restrictions, including a football training academy owned by a former University of Georgia wide receiver.

Smyrna on Tuesday closed Riverline Park due to “continual and large scale activity,” according to its Facebook page. Walking paths at the park on Oakdale Road remain open for use, the city said. Similar activity has been reported at Tolleson Park, but it remains open for use.

According to Parks and Recreation Director Richard Garland, Terrence Edwards’ Wide Receiver Academy, LLC has held organized training sessions at the park. The company is run by former University of Georgia wide receiver Terrence Edwards, who also played for the Atlanta Falcons and Canadian football teams the Montreal Alouettes and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Edwards offers training for customers ranging from middle-school students to adults to improve their skills as a wide receiver.

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Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive orders prohibit gatherings of 10 or more people and encourage residents to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Smyrna recently opened its fields to allow, for example, a parent and child to "pitch and hit on the fields," Mayor Derek Norton previously said. However, gatherings of more than 10 people and team games and practices are banned.

Smyrna has kept parks and athletic fields open for passive use by the public during the pandemic, but playground equipment is closed. Restrooms are now open and are being cleaned throughout the day.

Garland said four or five different Smyrna parks employees and as many park rangers have interacted with Edwards over the last two to three weeks. Along with the Training Academy allegedly violating the state orders with the large gatherings, Garland said businesses are not allowed to operate in Smyrna parks without a permit.

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Edwards disputes Garland’s assertion and said he’s only had one encounter with the city. His sole contact with city staff occurred May 16 while he was holding a training session for about 8 to 10 kids at Riverline Park. He was approached by city staff and told he needed a permit to use the fields. Edwards said there have been other groups using the fields, so he doesn’t understand why he’s being singled out.

“I don’t know why my company is getting attached to this,” he said.

Edwards said he will continue holding his training sessions, but will move them to private property. In the past, he has had about 15 trainees in a session, but the pandemic has reduced that number by about half.

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In an e-mailed statement Garland said any group using the parks for organized play would have been told the same thing. He said it’s possible that other groups have been using city property without Smyrna’s knowledge and “staff working staggered shifts for safety reasons may not have had an opportunity to encounter them and/or provide them with the same instruction” that Edwards received.

“Leisure use of the parks has been allowed as long as everyone adheres to the governor’s orders prohibiting groups of 10 or more,” he added. “If a parent comes to a park with a child or more, for instance, they, too must stay within the state restrictions for groups.”

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