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Football, girls soccer seasons back on track

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that he will soon be signing Executive Order No. 55, which will exclude the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association from current restrictions regarding contact sports due to COVID-19.

The executive order will enable high school football and girls soccer teams across the state to begin practices with contact drills as soon as it is signed and will allow the seasons for both sports to start on time.

The girls soccer season in Tennessee is back on track to start on Aug. 17 while football teams will make their season debuts on Aug. 21.

Golf, volleyball and cross country were not affected by the restrictions to contact sports and will proceed as originally scheduled. The high school golf season started on Monday while volleyball and cross country seasons will start on Aug. 17.

The start of the seasons for football and girls soccer was put in jeopardy at the end of June when Gov. Lee signed three executive orders which extended the state of emergency in Tennessee through Aug. 29. Without the exemption, the TSSAA would have had to push back the start of the football and girls soccer seasons until September.

Bernard Childress, the executive director of the TSSAA, said that he and the rest of the organization was glad to be able to work with Gov. Lee on acquiring this exemption.

 “I am pleased that we were able to develop some very specific guidelines for every sport that will allow our kids to get out on their fields and fully participate in football and girls’ soccer this fall,” Childress said.

The TSSAA voted on July 22 to install contingency plans if the restrictions on contact sports remained into August, but those contingency plans have now been nullified as a result of the new executive order.

However, the July 22 meeting of the TSSAA’s Board of Control did lead to the passing of COVID-19 guidelines which will remain in place for the 2020-21 school year until further notice. The rules discussed included:

  • Temperature checks are required prior to every practice for all coaches, players and other team personnel. Anyone with a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees must be sent home and cannon resume practicing until they prove documentation of a negative COVID-19 test or obtain a medical evaluation from a physician verifying that the coronavirus was not the cause of the fever.
  • All coaches, players and team personnel must go through a COVID-19 screening before participating in their first practice. Questions asked through the screening would include if any symptoms have been experienced in the prior seven days and whether the person going through the screening has a family member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or has been in contact with a COVID-19 patient in the prior 14 days.
  • No scrimmages, jamborees or other types of practices with other teams will be permitted.
  • At official contests, all coaches, players, team personnel, officials, administrators and fans must have their temperature checks. Those registering a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees must not be allowed to enter.
  • At each contest, a listing of symptoms for COVID-19 should be posted prominently at any area where spectators can enter.
  • At contests in areas where fans are allowed to attend, schools are encouraged to limit fan attendance to encourage social distancing. Schools are also encouraged to mark or designate bleachers or seats to further promote social distancing.
  • Member schools will require that all fans wear face coverings at all times while on-site and maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet. The requirement for face coverings does not apply to children under the age of 2.
  • All requirements related to temperature checks and screenings will also apply to members of a school band, cheerleaders or other similar student groups in attendance. Due to the potential risk of virus transmission during certain activities, the use of bands is discouraged. If the band is present, it should be relocated to an available area away from crowds and the physical distance between band members should be increased.
  • If a public address system is used, the host school will make public service announcements during the contest to remind those in attendance to use masks and maintain social distancing.
  • The host school is responsible for providing staff to engage in frequent cleaning and sanitizing of restroom facilities.
  • Concession stands at contests are discouraged due to a tendency for them to create large gatherings of people in close proximity. If a concession stand is operating at a game, signage or other appropriate markings must be in place to encourage social distancing. All concession stand workers must wear face coverings and maintain social distancing as much as possible.

Childress said in a press release that it will be important for all involved in high school athletics to remain vigilant and take proper steps to ensure a minimal spread of coronavirus among teams as the year progresses.

“This is good news for many kids and their families, but the reality is that the virus will continue to be with us and we have to be smart about taming the spread,” he said. “Every adult and every participant in every sport must do their part and follow the guidelines set forth by TSSAA and the governor’s office to help mitigate these risks.”