When Adairsville coaches and athletes are allowed back on campus together again for workouts next Monday, it will be cause for celebration from the Tigers. However, due to COVID-19, things won't be quite back to normal just yet.
These reunions will only be partial ones, as GHSA guidelines will restrict the number of individuals allowed at each workout. Likewise, athletes and coaches will be expected to follow social distancing measures and other health guidelines.
It might not seem like much, but this is the initial step towards a full-blown return to athletics. That, in and of itself, is just cause for the celebration.
“We are thrilled,” Adairsville High athletic director Meredith Barnhill said. “We’re very excited to get our kids back together, even if it’s just in small groups. Our coaches and kids have all missed each other. It’s going to do a lot for everybody’s morale and camaraderie for us to all get back together.
“We are taking the guidelines sent out by GHSA and the things we’ve discussed as a system very seriously. We worked all last week on protocols and how we can keep the kids and the adults safe. We want to just make sure we’ve done everything we can to make sure this is done safely and productively.”
After the GHSA announced its restriction-laden lift on the ban of activities in late May, schools knew they would be allowed to bring athletes back to campus. But each education system and each individual high school still faced plenty of challenges in prepping for the June 8 return of conditioning and weightlifting workouts.
Following an initial meeting with school system leaders — including county AD Mike Nelson and chief leadership and learning officer Clint Terza — Barnhill sat down with AHS principal Bruce Mulkey, Adairsville Middle AD Eric Elrod and strength and conditioning coordinator Kurt Scoggins to hash out the details.
Due to his background, Skoggins, in particular, had a huge role in designing workouts to limit any possible exposure the kids may have to the coronavirus.
“Having his expertise was invaluable,” Barnhill said of Scoggins, who was recently promoted into his current position. “What he’s going to do with our kids the first couple of weeks, we’re going to be able to do a lot of the work with our kids outdoors. The kids are going to be exposed to the virus as little as possible. We’re going to be able to do a lot of stuff outdoors with dumbbells and kettlebells where we can space them out.
"We’re going to be able to do some things where kids aren’t using the same equipment. … Aiming for as little cross-contamination as we can have. Obviously, we’re going to clean, sanitize and do all those things we’re supposed to do, but we can limit the equipment the kids share.“
As important as it is to minimize the chances of an outbreak among athletes and coaches, which is the whole point of the limited groups, it's also vital to consider how to safely get kids back into shape after such a long layoff.
“We don’t want to throw the kids back in the deep end," Barnhill said in regards to the meetings with Mulkey, Elrod and Scoggins. "A lot of them have not had access to any weights since they have left campus. We’re going to be very careful not to overtax them to begin with. We’re going to ease kids back into it.
"We wanted to look at the kind of workout we wanted to do. We wanted to look at the locations we thought we could use. We wanted to make sure all of our protocols were the same at Adairsville Middle and Adairsville High.”
Initially, Barnhill said the workouts will only be available for AHS athletes competing in fall sports, which consists of competition cheer, cross country, football, softball and volleyball. Each individual coach has been assigning workout groups.
As long as the groups are limited to 20 individuals, the Tigers will employ a breakdown of 18 athletes and two coaches from the given team's staff.
“We are going to start with fall sports, get those kids back in, get their feet back under them, and make sure all of our protocols and safety measures are where they need to be and what they need to be,” Barnhill said. “Hopefully, GHSA will allow us to have larger groups. Right now, we’re at 20, so we’re scheduled to have 18 kids and two adults. We’re hoping once GHSA enlarges those groups, we will start bringing in our winter sport kids and our spring sport kids.”
As of Monday afternoon, Barnhill said the vast majority of the plans were ready to go. She's been securing items like thermometers and hand sanitizer to comply with GHSA requirements.
Barnhill will review the plan once more, possibly with Mulkey, and hopes to release details to Adairsville athletes by Wednesday, at the latest.
Admittedly, things could change in the blink of an eye, and the GHSA could release new information at any point. But going off the current recommendations, Barnhill said the past few weeks have been easier than expected, mainly because the coaches and athletes have been so willing to make things work.
“It’s actually been a pretty smooth planning process," she said. "As far as what changes we may face — group numbers, timelines or whatever we may face — we’re just going to continue with our motto of ‘Adapt and Overcome.’ Whatever they throw at us, we will adjust and move forward.”