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Mississippi, Louisiana football coaches excited to return to football

NATCHEZ — The Mississippi High School Activities Association Executive Committee met on May 21 to consider and implement return to activity guidelines for member schools during the COVID-19 outbreak in Mississippi.

After thorough study and deliberation as well as recommendations from medical professionals across the state, the MHSAA Executive Committee approved the guidelines for summer athletics and activities, effective June 1 and for this summer only.

With high school football teams in the MHSAA not having any spring practices because of the coronavirus pandemic, they will only have about two and a half months to get ready for the 2020 football season, which is scheduled to begin on Aug. 21.

Randy Craft, Natchez High first-year head coach, said his team will begin summer practice on June 2.

“I think it’s going to be unique. We have to follow the safety guidelines, things of that nature,” Craft said. “It’s going to be different than any other year.”

When asked about how he feels about practicing again, Craft said, “I’m excited to start practicing again. To have a little sense of normalcy. It’s a little different. I’m ready to get back out on the grass.”

With the lack of spring practice, Craft said having summer practice is important “because we get to get our bodies acclimated, reduce injuries and get our bodies more conditioned (for the season).”

Craft added, “We hope our players are being safe and responsible. Staying sanitized. Getting ready for the summer.”

James Herrington, longtime Jefferson County head football coach, said he is ready for summer practices to begin, even on a voluntary basis, he also raises plenty of concerns.

“With small facilities like we have, we don’t have a lot of manpower. Not just the players, but the coaches as well,” Herrington said. “When people hear the word ‘opening’, they think that we’re going to go back to what we were doing. But it’s going to be just 10 percent.”

Herrington said he is concerned about having to do the temperature checks on the players once practice does begin.

“If his (temperature is too high), he’s out 14 days. It’s going to be a big challenge. I hope that the plan…is going to be a sound plan. It’s going to be interesting.”

Herrington also said that one of his assistant coaches became a father less than two weeks ago and that could present a unique situation in that he has to be around people, especially players, he hasn’t been around in a few months and then has to go back home to his wife and baby.

“As a fan of football, you’re always ready for practice. It raises a lot of questions. As a parent, you’re excited about getting your kids back out there, but at the same time you’re really not sure,” Herrington said.

Even with having voluntary summer practice, Herrington said there is something good that goes along with it.

“Having practices are important to maintain that your team is in the best physical condition possible to get ready for the season. Normally at the beginning is between wins and losses. You have the camaraderie. You have the togetherness. Whoever can manipulate through this and get it in the direction they need, they’re going to put together a pretty good plan,” Herrington said.

One other concern Herrington brought up is when players can and cannot wear face masks.

“You got kids who have to wear masks except when are doing physical situations. They have to wear masks at all other times. You have all that sweat coming down your face. It’s a concern,” Herrington said.

He also said that Jefferson County will probably won’t start its summer practice until June 3, then added that it’s possible that it could wait until as late as June 8.

B.J. Smithhart, Franklin County second-year head coach, didn’t have as much to say about the return-to-play decision made by the MHSAA Executive Committee as Herrington did.

“We’re going to start on June 1. We’re going to follow along the guidelines like everyone else and be as safe as possible,” Smithhart said. “I’m fine with (starting on that date). You’ve got to start off really slow. Follow their guidelines.”

After not being able to have any spring practices, Smithhart said having practices is important to make sure that everyone on the team is on the same page.

“You just don’t want to overdo it at the beginning. We’ve got to have some time together. Just back into it,” Smithhart said. “I just want everyone to be safe.”

MAIS

The Midsouth Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) made a decision last Wednesday to issue further directives to member school to provide Return to Competition Safety Guidelines outlining steps to return to athletic activities on campus while recognizing that safety should be ensured for all who attend.

Taking into account these safety guidelines, Adams County Christian School decided on Friday that it will be begin mandatory summer workouts on campus for all junior varsity and high school athletes, including football, as of Monday, June 1.

For the JV and high school boys’ athletes, practice will take on play on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. This includes athletes who plan to participate in any fall and/or spring sport. The JV class includes students entering the seventh grade for the 2020-21 academic year.

The MAIS provided workout guidelines for players and coaches to follow at practices.

Cathedral High School head football coach Chuck Darbonne said last Friday that he is still awaiting approval from the Diocese of Jackson as to when summer football practice will start. He added that he hopes to hear something within the next few days.

LHSAA

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association Executive Committee made a decision on May 13 to postpone the first day of permissive LHSAA Summer Rules to June 8.

However, one person who is ready for the second Monday in June to arrive is Stanley Smith, head coach of the defending Class 2A state champion Ferriday High School Trojans.

Smith said he is excited to get back to football practices starting on June 8.

“I have to get back to work,” Smith said. “I have a lot of kids (on the team). Get the process back going.”

Smith added that summer is a big part of the season and that’s when games are won — not just during the season.

“It’s a huge part of the process. The summer is about getting everybody involved, conditioning and camaraderie,” Smith said. “You get to work in the summer.”

Another coach who is ready for summer practice to get under way on June 8 is Vidalia High School first-year head coach Michael Norris, who said his team will start on that date.

“I have no problem with starting practices, especially outside. Depends on which experts you listen to. We’re starting up smart and safe,” Norris said. “We’ll check their temperatures every day. We’ll do most, if not all, of our stuff outside.

“As soon as they let us go, we’ll be here. We have to go off the guidance from our school board. We’ll make sure we follow the rules that they give us.”

Norris added that being a first-year head coach after being an assistant coach the last few years, he can’t wait to get started.

“You can’t start putting in our stuff and building the culture without the kids here,” Norris said. “I’m excited about that. I’m giddy.”

Norris noted that having practice is very important for two reasons: 1) because it is his first year as a head coach; and 2) having some kids on the team that are coming up from the eighth grade.

“The defense will remain the same and the offense may change a little bit,” Norris said. “Get the kids working together, the team unity and the purpose of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

MHSAA guideline  to follow

  • School athletics and fine arts activity programs can begin summer practices, workouts, skill development, weightlifting, conditioning and rehearsals for student-athletes and fine arts participants on June 1. Athletic coaches and activity directors must confirm with their school and/or district administrators that a specific school facility is open and available for use.
  • Competition in athletics and activities between or among MHSAA member or non-member schools and/or teams is canceled until school resumes in the fall.
  • All practices, workouts, skill development, weightlifting, conditioning and rehearsals shall be considered voluntary for student athletes and activity participants.
  • School team and school activity participation and travel to summer programs and/or team camps are not allowed. On-campus summer programs and/or school camps should adhere to national, state and local COVID-19 health recommendations

MAIS guidelines to follow

  • Upon arrival to the facility, athletes and coaches should have a check-in point for questioning and to make certain that no signs of illness are present. Temperatures may be screened, as well. Access to the facility should be denied if any of the following criteria are met:
    • A temperature of 99.9 degrees or above.
    • Signs or symptoms of a respiratory infection, including cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, or the aforementioned fever.
    •  In the previous 14 days has had contact with someone with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.
  • A positive test for COVID-19 for any athlete or coach will result in the following:
    • The individual will not be allowed to return to campus until cleared by their physician, with such clearance in writing.
    • All individuals who have been in contact with the infected person will be quarantined and not allowed to return to campus for 14 days, contingent upon clearance by their physician, with such clearance in writing.
  • All athletes must bring their own towel and water bottle. No community water will be provided by the school, and students will not be allowed to use the water fountains on campus.