Woodland competition cheer coach Kathi Shedd was one week away from tryouts for her 2020 team when the COVID-19 outbreak forced schools across Georgia to shutter their buildings.
Shedd is not alone.
None of her contemporaries in Bartow County, she said, had been able to hold tryouts before the global pandemic completely turned life upside down in the Peach State. The inability to conduct tryouts (and subsequent lack of offseason workouts) has pushed the local coaches into unfamiliar positions.
“We’re just kind of at a standstill, waiting for the official green light to get stuff going back to some degree,” Adairsville head coach Kaylie Noe said. “I don’t think we’re obviously going to be able to start back full steam ahead, but at least some kind of start would be great.”
She later added, “There’s a lot of question marks, honestly. We are in the dark, as everyone else is. We wish we could give answers to our parents and our prospective athletes. We are just kind of wishing and waiting with everyone.”
With none of the teams in the county having held tryouts, Shedd said coaches and athletic directors from all four schools have been conversing about possible ways to remedy the situation. At this point, though, the decision is out of the hands of local officials.
When the GHSA announced last week that conditioning workouts in groups of up to 20 individuals could begin June 8, it didn’t provide any reassurance for competitive cheer coaches and athletes. With social distancing guidelines still being enforced, there’s really no possible way to hold proper tryouts for the time being.
“We really can’t have an effective tryout, because you can’t get on mats," Shedd said. "You can’t tumble much. You can’t get within 6 feet of each other, so you can’t stunt.
“It’s a lot of guesswork right now. We’re all still trying to figure out how we’re going to do tryouts.”
Noe, who said her team’s tryouts were originally scheduled for late April, wishes she knew who would be competing for her, so that she could be providing support during these difficult times.
“I think it would have been great to know who our team was going into all of this,” Noe said. “… We don’t know who our athletes are going to be so that we could make sure they were at least keeping themselves conditioned on their own or doing little daily workouts to keep themselves in shape.
“If nothing else, to help with not only their physical health but also mental health through all of this, because I know that’s been challenging for everyone.”
An added hurdle for Woodland is the program’s planned shift back to being a Coed team after one season competing in Class 5A with all girls. A large senior class leaves plenty of holes to fill for the Wildcats, adding to the overall uncertainty Shedd is facing.
“We graduated a lot of really key seniors last year,” she said. “We’re going back Coed, so that’s hard. Some of the guys we know, and we were hoping for some new ones. We really don’t know who will fill the shoes.
“It’s going to be tough getting in touch with all those kids this summer to even come for a tryout.”
With the possibility of a canceled season, Shedd doesn’t feel comfortable asking her team to contribute the roughly $5,000 they typically do for music and choreography. Instead, she’ll likely rework previous routines if it comes to that.
“What if we fork out all that money for choreography, and then we don’t even have a season?” Shedd said. “Everything is just so up in the air. Basically, music is $1,500, and choreography is $3,500-4,000. That’s a lot of money to put out if we don’t have a season.”
While it’s easy to focus on the negatives that come with such an unprecedented offseason, Noe said she’s focused on the positives surrounding her program, which won its second Region 6-AAA title in three years last fall.
“We’re staying hopeful,” she said. “I’m excited. I think between the athletes we have coming up and our returning athletes, I think we’re going to have a really solid program this season, all things considered. We’re just trying to stay positive. I know the girls, as well as our coaching staff, are going to work hard to do everything they can to ensure a successful season.”
Competitive cheer is listed as “higher risk” in a recent report about guidelines for a resumption of athletics released by the National Federation of State High School Associations. That’s the highest of the three levels, putting the sport in the same category as football and wrestling.
Among fall sports in Georgia, cheer typically has the latest start time, as far as competitions go, usually not holding meets until late September. Even still, Noe remains, at least slightly, worried about the prospects of the upcoming season starting on time.
“Although we have a late start, I think we’re all a little bit nervous,” she said. “Cheerleading is a contact sport, so having restrictions on our girls being able to come in contact, it is a little bit alarming thinking about a competition in September at this point.”
There’s a decent chance the season has to be completely canceled. But if restrictions begin to be lifted, there could still be hope for a 2020 competitive cheer season.
That being said, Shedd doesn’t like the idea of pushing back the schedule and interfering with winter sports. Beyond that, if competitions are forced to be held without fans in the stands, she doesn’t know whether it would even be worth having a season.
“Not to say that we don’t love this sport,” Shedd said, “but I don’t know what a competition would look like without spectators, if they’re going to do that. Cheer is all about hyping up the crowd. If there’s no crowd, I don’t know.”