Area administrators consider plan to restart high school athletics

After 60 days of pandemic-related inactivity, there is finally hope that the wheels of high school athletics are once again beginning to turn in Northeast Tennessee.

A Zoom meeting will take place Wednesday morning involving directors of schools and athletic directors from Mountain City to Morristown. A plan will be presented by Science Hill AD Keith Turner, with the design of having student-athletes back on the practice fields by May 26. As part of the proposal, a large number of strict guidelines must be followed — including a 9-to-1 athlete-to-coach ratio with social distancing measures in place.

“There will be no contact for now,” Turner said.

Turner emphasized the plan was constructed with oversight from Dr. David Kirschke, medical director of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department.

“It is a plan that has been vetted by local health officials, not just athletic directors or directors of schools but by people who understand (COVID-19) better than we do,” Turner said. “They’re picking it apart and saying, ‘You may need to add this or do this or do that.’ ”

After hearing the proposal, the directors of schools will consult with the health department before approving or denying it.

“It will be all or none,” Turner noted. “If it’s safe for one system, it’s safe for all. Collectively the directors want to make a unified stance.”

Other places in Tennessee have already put plans and dates in place to restart, Turner said, including Maryville-Alcoa, Bradley County and Milan. Turner said area administrators have met with other groups to help formulate a solid plan.

“We’ve Zoomed with colleges and gotten information from pro teams,” he said.

Included in the guidelines mix will be temperature checks for all student-athletes prior to entering practice facilities.

If problems arise with implementation of the plan, Turner said another shutdown could follow.

“Anything could be reeled back in,” he said. “When you are dealing with students, you have to make sure everything is safe.”

Daniel Boone athletic director Danny Good said the plan is needed.

“It’s imperative we get started, especially for the contact sports like football,” he said. “They have to be able to get their bodies in condition to take the physical demands of the sport. And some kids have been working while others haven’t.

“At Boone, our approach is concentrating on what is next. I’m not saying the other sports aren’t important, they are very important, but fall sports are what is next.”

Turner said he envisions more than just conditioning in the practice sessions.

“I see weightlifting without spotters,” he said. “They would have to lift a lot less weight to be safe. I see conditioning. I see quarterbacks throwing to receivers. In basketball, I see maybe a coach in the gym with one player on each goal.”

The plan would allow a return to action for every sport.

“Each coach would have to turn in a plan to the athletic director,” Turner said.