Over the past few months, there's been no shortage of questions and only a passable number of answers regarding the return to high school athletics in Georgia.
Since in-person classes and sports activities were simultaneously shut down in mid-March, speculation has run rampant about what it would take to see athletics resume in a world with COVID-19. The one caveat virtually everyone agreed upon (or at least begrudgingly conceded) was that things wouldn't return to normal overnight.
It would be a multistep process. But when the process would begin, how many steps it would take and how long it would take to complete each step were questions with no answers. That is until recently, when the GHSA announced the initial phase of a return would start June 8.
However, it's the remaining unanswered questions that have Cartersville athletic director Darrell Demastus concerned.
“I think the biggest frustration of the whole thing is so much uncertainty and still so much uncertainty,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “… We all have our hopes that we get back to at least being able to handle the footballs and the softballs, and we’re not having to do 6-foot social distancing.
"That’s one of the issues, we don’t know how long this phase is going to last.”
Of course, Demastus has his opinion. He fully understands and supports the first part of the return in a reacclimation sense. But not being able to use sport-specific equipment in July (and especially into August) is a major worry of his.
He voiced that concern in a Tuesday morning Zoom meeting between the ADs of the six schools in the new Region 7-AAAAA, which also includes Cass and Woodland.
“My hope is that we can at least get back to some type of normal activity the Monday after dead week,” Demastus said referring to July 6. “… It’s going to be very difficult to play football or stuff if we’re not back to some type of normal activity by Aug. 1. I had made the comment to the other ADs that my problem is going to be if we don’t have some type of normal activity by Aug. 1, I feel like we’re probably going to wind up putting kids in danger.”
While it's certainly a legitimate source of unease, Demastus and Co. have had to focus more on the pressing issues, namely keeping those returning for workouts safe. Despite head coaches, athletic trainers and Demastus himself as AD not counting in the group of 20 individuals allowed at each workout, the Canes are still focusing on scheduling 17-18 kids per session.
Demastus said the school is essentially following all GHSA recommendations. Some aspects were left up to the individual school systems, most notably how to handle positive screenings.
A positive screening, it should be noted, is different than a positive test result. Positive screenings can come from a temperature reading above 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit or a "Yes" answer to any of the four questions on the GHSA Workout Questionnaire. (Both of which will be administered to all participants prior to any workout.) Those questions are:
— Do you or have you had a fever in the last week?
— Have you been diagnosed with COVID-19?
— Have you been in contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19?
— Have you traveled to a “hot spot” for COVID-19?
“What we’re doing is that if a child has a positive screening, they cannot work out and that child must go home immediately," Demastus said. "We have to watch all of the athletes who are there [in that group] and contact their parents or guardian. …
“The athlete with a positive screening cannot come back until he’s had a 14-day quarantine, has a 'No' on all of his questionnaires and his temperature is in line, or he goes and has a COVID-19 test. Those are the only two ways he can come back is a quarantine for 14 days, or he has a test and it comes back negative. If there’s two athletes in a group who have a positive screening, then the entire group, along with the coaches, either has to quarantine or go have the test done.”
As far as trying to prevent that situation from arising, Demastus pointed out that a copy of the workout schedule will go to Cartersville's custodial staff. He said there will also be plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer for the athletes to use, but it will also help that the school's weight room, which is less than a year old, has enough stations for each member of the group to have their own equipment.
“When they come into the weight room, I have the custodial service ready to come in right behind them after they go out the door to start cleaning, sanitizing and wiping everything down," Demastus said. “... Each individual student, each individual athlete can literally go to a station and not have to be moving stations. They will all have their own, so to say, personal work space.”
That being said, the effects of the return won't be felt equally across the board, even among Cartersville's fall sports.
Competition cheer is in an incredibly tough spot with tryouts still not being able to take place. On the other end of the spectrum is a sport like softball. Even if Canes head coach Shannon Suarez hasn't been working with her players, several of them likely have been practicing with travel ball teams across the state.
While fall sports will get priority on scheduling workouts for the time being, Demastus knows other coaches will be eager to get their athletes in shape. Most, though, will have to probably wait until a later phase of reopening occurs during which time sport-specific equipment can be utilized.
Even though winter and spring sports teams will be forced to wait a little longer before returning to normal, the incremental progress is starting to be made. It's far from an ideal situation, but Demastus believes the Canes are handling it the best they can.
“I think with what we’ve got and the hand that we’ve been dealt,” he said, “I think we’re pretty prepared and ready to go work out.”