As the debate rages on across the state and the nation of whether schools will be reopening amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, high school sports have also been pulled into the debate.
In Alabama, fall camp is scheduled to begin on July 27 for high schools and summer workouts have been ongoing since June. The schools and coaches in The Sun’s coverage area have been hard at work treating things as normal as possible, while also trying to be as safe as possible, as well. Many of the coaches seemed to share the same views on football season, too.
Daleville head coach Desmond Lett said that as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise his optimism over whether football will be played has dropped, but his belief that football is necessary has not fallen.
“The more the numbers rise the more it makes you think it’s not going to happen,” Lett said. “With that being said, though, I believe it should happen.
“I know a lot of people don’t want to hear this but the truth is a bunch of these kids only come to school because of sports. They keep their grades up and their attendance up so they can play sports. If you take sports away then a lot of them are going to feel like, ‘What’s the point?’ I feel like the state department can find some sort of solution so that we have football one way or another.”
New Brockton’s Zack Holmes echoed Lett’s assessment.
“A lot of kids come to school just for athletics, so that needs to happen,” Holmes emphasized. “For this generation of kids, I think it’s important to them and their development as much as anything is, and I think it’s important for our state. Football is important here.”
Enterprise’s Rick Darlington said sports are crucial to high school students for more than just attendance.
“It keeps kids in school, it keeps them motivated and it keeps them out of trouble away from school,” Darlington said. “Aside from that, though, it gives them something bigger than themselves to latch on to and be a part of.
“Until they get married and have a family (football) is going to be one of the biggest and best parts of their lives and provide many of their memories. There is never going to be a time in their life – unless they play in college – where they have to deal with and get along with so many different types of people than they do every day when they come in here.”
Holmes also said that he believes making sure that we get back to some sense of normalcy – no matter how altered it may be – is also important.
“With what all is going on in the country the biggest concern for me with our kids is that you don’t want them to grow up fearful,” Holmes emphasized. “I think it’s important for them to get back to a sense of normalcy as soon as we can. I know there has to be adjustments and considerations but I think it’s important.”
Holmes also said that everything that the country has been dealing with during the COVID-19 pandemic can also be a teaching lesson.
“I think an important lesson in this is to do as best as you can with what you have and keep moving forward and adjust and not just shut down.
“You control the controllable but don’t allow a situation to make you quit. I don’t think we should have an all or nothing mentality, though. If we need to modify the play then we modify the play.”
Darlington is confident that football will happen but isn’t quite sure how the season will look.
“I think we’ll have a season for sure,” Darlington said. “I can’t imagine Alabama not having a (football) season. I would hate it if we had a reduced schedule or play only region games but that’s kind of the question right now.”
Darlington said that level of uncertainty can certainly sap the energy from an adult but he hasn’t seen that in his players.
“These kids come in every day and work hard and they’re not out here talking about that,” Darlington said. “I think they probably play off the adults and we’re certainly not talking about it. We’re getting ready to play.”
Holmes said that he believes that Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey and AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese are doing everything they can to ensure that football season occurs.
“I really believe that,” Holmes said. “It’s important to both of those guys for us to play and I think the AHSAA has handled this situation about as well as anybody.
“They’ve been measured in how they react and they thought things out really well. I feel good about us playing. I think it may be modified but I will be shocked if they come out on Thursday and say we aren’t playing.”
If football season gets cancelled it would have a big unintended side effect on rising seniors looking to earn scholarship offers.
“It’s really important for senior recruiting,” Holmes said. “The smaller schools are still eventuating a lot of senior film, so I think it’s important for those to get to play and furthermore they deserve to play and they’ve earned the right to play.”
With seniors already losing spring evaluation time and with many camps being cancelled around the country, playing is big for seniors.
“It really hurts those guys,” Darlingon said. “With no spring and most of the camps gone away you just have to hope those guys can have a great season and get some offers that way.”
Lett said that it was hard for juniors in 2019 to pop out on film with all-state running back Jalen White getting all of the attention so it was very important for his seniors to get much-needed film this season, but said that his coaches would do everything to get them that film even without a season.
“I’ve talked to my coaches about that as far as getting them film no matter what,” Lett said. “Those guys weren’t necessarily going to pop off the film last year because of Jalen but this year is supposed to be their year to shine. If we aren’t able to have a season then we’ll work to get them some film whether it’s just doing drills or whatever else, though.”
The AHSAA is scheduled to make its recommendations for the Central Board of Control on July 22.