Bernard Childress is “cautiously optimistic” that everything will go O.K. as the high school football season opens in Tennessee during the coronavirus pandemic on Friday night.
“I think this first Friday night will definitely be a gauge as to how we move forward with just all of the changes,” said Childress, the TSSAA executive director. “The game itself shouldn’t look different, but everything that surrounds the game and everything that’s going on pregame, halftime, after the game -- as far as trying to mitigate risk -- still remains a concern.”
Childress believes the TSSAA has done as much as it possibly can to keep the players, coaches and fans safe.
“The guidelines and things need to be changed not daily, but weekly,” Childress said. “I think our job is to make sure that we continue to stay informed with all of the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines and all of the recommendations that are coming from national and the state sports medicine advisory people and all of the infectious disease doctors that we have our access to.”
It seems inevitable that some players and coaches will get the deadly virus.
“I think we would be naive to think that we wouldn’t get some cases, but can we contain those situations and make sure that all of our schools are doing the right thing when it comes to dealing with it,” Childress said. “We’re just hoping and praying that we don’t have a serious outbreak.”
The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences canceled their fall football seasons, but that didn’t create a trickle-down effect to the TSSAA.
“We think that their challenges are somewhat different than ours,” Childress said. “Those schools are traveling and bringing in kids from all across the nation and sometimes all across the world. And we’re dealing with communities that if we have a situation, contact tracing will not be as difficult.”
Crawford feeling uneasy entering opener
Brentwood coach Ron Crawford carries a feeling of uncertainty into his team’s opener at Nolensville on Friday.
“We’re not there yet,” Crawford said. “We’re not to next Friday. I think our roster or anybody else’s roster is day to day. You never know how you’re going to be impacted by this or at what time you’re going to be impacted because at some point you’re probably going to be impacted.”
Crawford said his players are relieved and excited that the season is starting on time because they want to play so badly, especially since the spring sports season ended in March due to the pandemic.
“I think I was concerned about going from 0 miles per hour to 100 mph in three weeks to play the game,” Crawford said. “So I think all of us are probably concerned about that and I think we can do it safely. I just don’t know how good of football it will be."
Brentwood lost spring practice and two and a half months of training (weightlifting, running) due to the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the Bruins were blocking trash cans due to social distancing.
Each Brentwood player will have his own water bottle and towel as a COVID-19 precaution.
“Are we going to be able to hold up stamina-wise after not having any scrimmages and being so limited in practice?,” Crawford said.
Brentwood coaches and players who aren’t in the game will wear facemasks on the sideline.
“No handshakes, no huddling with your team and talking to them after the game,” Crawford said. “Except for the game itself, it will be totally different.”
The Bruins will stand six feet apart from each other on the sideline, a huge difference from typical years when players are side by side.
Football is an emotional game, so it will be difficult to break the habit of close-together celebrations after big plays.
“Difficult to manage without a doubt, but our kids want to play and compete so we’re going to do everything we can to have an opportunity to compete,” Crawford said.
Nolensville and Brentwood will limit their crowd sizes.
“I think it’s one-third,” Crawford said.
Crawford is surprised the season is starting on time after so much uncertainty during the summer.
He believes his players might be safer during practices and games than they are at school because the team is taking so many precautions.
Crawford doesn’t know what to expect from Nolensville, coming off an 11-3 season that ended in the Class 4A semifinals.
“Absolutely nothing,” Crawford said when asked what he’s heard about the Knights. “We’re not in the same class, we’re not in the same league. Those guys are friends of mine. Super respect what they’ve done with their program in a short amount of time. Don’t know anything. It’s kind of going to be like the first scrimmage of fall.”
Brentwood went 10-3 after a trip to the 6A quarterfinals last season.
After being ‘stuck at home,’ BA eager for opener
Brentwood Academy, which hosts Lipscomb Academy on Friday, lost about three weeks of preseason practice time due to the pandemic.
Teams weren’t allowed to hold preseason scrimmages due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’ve never played a game without scrimmaging someone before, so it’s going to be a little strange,” BA coach Cody White said. “Plus, we’ve never played (Lipscomb) before. We don’t know anything about them, really.”
White thinks turnovers and penalties will play a big factor since neither team scrimmaged during the preseason.
The Eagles have been training since May 27.
“We’ve probably lifted more than we normally do because that’s what we’ve been doing,” White said.
BA will limit its crowd to 33% of what the stadium can hold as a pandemic precaution.
The Eagles are excited to play after the season looked doubtful for much of the summer.
“They’ve been stuck at home and it’s just kind of a strange time, I guess, for the country,” White said. “They’re all excited to have some normalcy and be around their buddies and be doing something that they enjoy doing so it’s been great.”
BA held its first day of school on Tuesday.
“I appreciate our board and (headmaster) Curt Masters for having the courage and foresight to say our kids need to be in school,” White said. “It’s important for them. We’re balancing it with what we can do to keep the kids safe from mask-wearing in classrooms to checking kids because inevitably some of us are going to get it.”
There were 135,778 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 1,426 deaths, in Tennessee through Tuesday.
BA went 6-4 and missed the Division II-AAA playoffs after suffering multiple injuries last season.
Lipscomb finished 7-6 and made it to the D-II AA semifinals under first-year coach Trent Dilfer, a former NFL quarterback, in 2019.
Pandemic gives CPA a new perspective
After enduring the lockdown and a premature end to spring sports, Christ Presbyterian Academy can’t wait for its Friday opener at Riverdale.
“I think everyone knows to not take even a day for granted and so I think the perspective that these young people have been given is probably a gift for them,” CPA coach Ingle Martin said.
Martin said his team lost four weeks of practice time due to the pandemic.
The Lions face a tradition-rich program that went 7-4 after a 20-14 loss to Mt. Juliet in the first round of the 6A playoffs last year.
“They’ve got a really good front seven on defense and I know their offensive line is really good,” said Martin, whose team took second in D-II AA with a 7-7 record in 2019. “With no scrimmages, we really don’t know what each other has.”
The TSSAA recommends limiting crowd sizes to 25-33%. Fans will be required to wear facial coverings.
“We’ll play them in front of no fans,” Martin kidded. “I mean, our kids want to play. We’re going to do everything we can to keep our kids safe and make sure they’re following all of the recommended protocols.
“I think everybody has been worried about everything since March. The bottom line is we’re excited to be playing football again.”