The Mississippi High School Activities Association announced Tuesday a delay in the fall sports schedule following a meeting at the association’s headquarters in Clinton.
Fall camp for football has been delayed until Aug. 17, with jamboree (exhibition) games being permitted to be played Aug. 28 and the regular season starting Sept. 4. There have been no changes to the playoff or championship game schedules. Teams in Classes 1A, 5A and 6A will play 10 games, while 2A, 3A and 4A teams will play nine games. Regular-season games scheduled for Aug. 21 and 28 are canceled.
Additionally, the MHSAA announced fall practices for volleyball, swimming and cross country being delayed until Aug. 10, with competitions between schools allowed to begin Aug. 24. Any meets or matches canceled due to the delay of the season can be “rescheduled with permission from both school administrations,” according to the MHSAA’s press release detailing the delayed start. Like with football, postseason matches/meets will maintain their original schedules.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of spring sports back in March, and although summer athletic activities were allowed to resume in June, spiking infection numbers had people wondering if there would be sports when schools returned next month.
“The board felt these changes will give all of us more time to try to get back into the routine of school,” MHSAA Executive Committee President Kalvin Robinson said in the statement. “There are going to be many challenges — ones we’re anticipating and those we don’t even know about yet — in returning to on-campus learning. It’s going to be different than what we’ve experienced in the past. Hopefully pushing back the start of the Fall sports seasons will help make that transition a little smoother for everyone involved.”
Meridian head football coach John Douglass said he and his coaches are planning to continue their summer workouts until the start of fall camp, adjusting the schedules as needed to account for coaches’ teaching duties. As of now, he’s heard nothing about the MHSAA wanting to give athletes a week off from summer workouts ahead of fall camp.
“They’ve not mandated a break (in summer workouts), or at least there’s no mention of one in the report,” Douglass said. “As much as everyone is concerned about (players being acclimated to) the heat and hydration, we don’t anticipate anything like that. Our plan is to continue on as normal. On Aug. 3, the coaches go back to work with their teaching duties, so we’ll have to move workouts from the morning until the afternoon.”
Meridian athletic director Cheyenne Trussell said he anticipated a delay in the start of fall seasons and said he agrees with the MHSAA’s decision.
“They erred on the side of safety,” Trussell said. “This gives us the best possible chance to play. We would have loved to open the season with Northeast Lauderdale (scheduled for Aug. 21 at Meridian), but we understand the decision the association made.”
West Lauderdale head football coach Brock Clay said his only reaction to the news is relief that the MHSAA still plans to have a football season as of now.
“I’m excited we’re getting to play,” Clay said. “That’s where I’m at.”
While Clay wasn’t expecting the season to get canceled, he admitted there was always a little bit of apprehension in the back of his mind.
“Nothing would really surprise me at this point in time,” Clay said. “I never really had a negative feeling about not playing, but I wouldn’t be shocked by any of it.”
Neshoba Central coach Patrick Schoolar said like Clay, he felt relief when learning the MHSAA planned to go forward with a fall season.
“It’s doable,” Schoolar said. “You do miss your first two games, and you don’t want to miss any games, but if you give me the other nine or 10 I’m happy with it.”
In the Rockets’ case, the cancelation of the first two weeks means a short turnaround between non-divisional opponents and Neshoba Central’s seven-game Region 2-5A schedule. Right now, Schoolar is attempting to fill his team’s scheduled bye week with an opponent, and he hopes to play in a jamboree game Aug. 28.
“Nobody likes it, but everyone is in the same boat,” Schoolar said. “It’s a fair shake across the board. Most coaches I think are glad an answer came out. We’re starting (fall) practice late and missing two ball games, so we’ll play just two games before we get to the division, which is why we’re trying to fill our bye week. I’m not going to fuss or complain, I’m just glad we’ll be able to play, because the kids needed it. I know some people don’t believe that, but the kids need athletics.”
That relief was felt by Clarkdale athletic director Scott Gibson as well, not just for football but for all fall sports.
“To be honest, I’m just excited we’re going to have sports for our student-athletes,” Gibson said. “You hate to lose any games, but with the way things are going we’re excited to be having seasons for volleyball, football and cross country.”
In the press release, MHSAA Executive Director Don Hinton mentioned the idea of flipping the fall and spring sports seasons but said due to logistical challenges and concerns raised by coaches and athletic directors that idea wasn’t implemented. Trussell said he is against flipping the seasons and is glad the MHSAA decided to keep the fall and spring seasons in place, especially since playing football in the spring and then trying to do it again next fall could present its own challenges.
“One, who knows what COVID-19 is going to do — it could be just as high next spring,” Trussell said. “Then you have some seniors graduating in January as well as signing scholarships, so those seniors are looking to get ready to go off to college as opposed to playing and risking an injury.”
The MHSAA didn’t outline any guidelines concerning fan attendance at athletic events in its press release, and Trussell said those decisions are being left to local school districts.
“My understanding is they’re allowing each AD to make that adjustment,” Trussell said. “At Ray Stadium we shouldn’t have any problem with social distancing, whereas at some other schools you might, so you’ll have to get creative (in those cases).”
Gibson confirmed the MHSAA is leaving fan attendance logistics in the hands of individual school districts, and any restrictions implemented by schools are necessary for everyone’s safety.
“My understanding is the governor has placed certain orders in certain counties (where COVID-19 counts are high),” Gibson explained. “It’s going to be doable, but it’s definitely going to look different than it has in the past. We will do things to maintain the safety of our student-athletes of course, but also for fans as well.”
Hinton said in the association’s press release that Tuesday’s decisions could be revisited later.
“We believe this is the right decision at the right time,” Hinton said. “As we’ve said since last spring, this is an unprecedented and rapidly changing situation where new information can and will alter plans and schedules at any time. … We’ve been in contact with officials from the Governor’s office and the Mississippi Department of Education. We’ve talked with sports administrators from Mississippi universities and community colleges as well as leaders from the National Federation (NFHS) and our neighboring state associations. All of us are looking for the best way to navigate these challenges and obstacles, but each us has our own challenges.”