Local football coaches react to GHSA canceling scrimmages

By NICHOLAS SULLIVAN
Posted 8/8/20

In a year full of changes to high school football, the GHSA threw another wrinkle into the mix Thursday, when it announced preseason scrimmages against other schools would be canceled. Thursday's …

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Local football coaches react to GHSA canceling scrimmages

Posted

In a year full of changes to high school football, the GHSA threw another wrinkle into the mix Thursday, when it announced preseason scrimmages against other schools would be canceled.

Thursday's announcement, which also tentatively pushed back competition cheer into the winter and one-act play into the spring, was met with disappointment by Bartow County coaches. But the fact that the regular season, set to begin the week of Sept. 4, and playoffs remain intact left the locals at least somewhat optimistic.

"It was bad news, and it was good news," Cass head coach Steve Gates said. "It was bad news, because we wanted to see what we needed to work on. ... That's what scrimmages are for, to be a measuring stick against another team for things you're doing well and not doing well. The good news is it gives us another two weeks longer to prepare for the regular season."

If there's anybody who could use extra prep time, it's the Colonels. With a new offense and two young quarterbacks vying for playing time, Cass won't fret over that. However, the team really could have used a chance to see how their young QBs handle the pressure of a game environment.

The silver lining is that Gates and Co. will have five non-region games to help work out some of the kinks.

"That is huge," he said. "... We're always going to go compete; we're always going to try to be successful. But at least, these first five games won't determine if we make the playoffs or not."

Adairsville doesn't have that same luxury. After facing the Colonels in their second game, the Tigers will jump right into Region 6-AAA, albeit with an open date in between.

"There's obviously disappointment there," Adairsville's Eric Bishop said of scrimmages being canceled. "Disappointment No. 1 from a head coach of a program standpoint, and disappointment for the kids, especially these seniors, who really want to get out there and get going. We understand this is an ever-changing situation, and it's probably not going to be the last. Certainly wouldn't want to be in the shoes of Dr. [Robin] Hines or any of those guys at GHSA. They have a tough job, and it's an unprecedented job.

"We'll keep doing what we do, and we'll just adjust, adapt and overcome any obstacles that come our way. ... We've got to put our best foot forward, see what's best for our program under these circumstances and make a plan until we hear more."

Bishop said his staff has already engaged in discussions regarding how to handle the latest development. Some have pointed out the advantages of holding intra-squad scrimmages in hopes of better evaluating what the Tigers have in certain spots. Others have brought up the concern of overworking players with almost twice as many padded practices before the first game than is typical.

He is encouraged that no regular-season games have been canceled.

"We're all kind of going through this together," Bishop said. "Nobody is getting a competitive advantage by any of these decisions they've made so far. Everybody is kind of in the same boat. I think it's going to be whoever manages their time and their effort the best that will show, especially early on."

Gates and Bishop both discussed the possibility of GHSA facing a shortage of officials. There have been more officials retiring than joining the ranks, and with the group leaning more heavily towards the older side, it wouldn't be surprising to see several opt against calling games this fall.

That could create a situation where games are being played Thursday nights, Saturday afternoons and Saturday nights in addition to the typical Friday contests.

"There may be an issue with getting enough officials to officiate Friday night games," Gates said. "With the COVID and with everything going on, it didn't shock me or surprise me that they took the scrimmage games away, because that gives them more time to find more officials."

Said Bishop, "I think it's a definite concern. Hopefully, we get back to normal enough that those guys feel comfortable enough to go out and have confidence in us head coaches that we're going to have our programs prepared, with all the safety protocols they're putting on us for game nights and game day rituals and routines."

Cartersville head coach Conor Foster admitted the lack of scrimmages will be tough, but he believes his players will be ready when the season does get underway.

"We won't make any excuses those first few games," Foster said. "The standard won't change; the approach won't change. Always, early in the year, you're still trying to figure out who you're going to be. That doesn't change too much.

"There might be a few extra butterflies, because you remove the scrimmage. But our kids will be tuned in and ready to go when it's time."

As for the GHSA's move to eliminate the scrimmages, Foster believes the only thing he can do is trust that the governing body and its sports medicine advisory council is making the right calls to keep players safe.

"They're privy to information that we're not," Foster said. "It wouldn't be very responsible for me to question decisions when I don't know all the information related to the decision that was made.

"I'm thankful that we're still playing. Ultimately, the season hasn't been changed. Our scrimmage has been canceled. But as of today, we're still playing 10 games with a full playoff slate, so I'm excited."