Normally, once the Louisiana High School Athletic Association releases it sports season dates each year, they’re set in stone, but because of the novel coronavirus, if there’s anything that’s certain about the high school football season, it’s that there’s a whole lot of uncertainty.
Denham Springs football coach Brett Beard said that’s exactly what started to sink in Monday with the state still in Phase 2 of reopening.
“This would be technically the first week of sport-specific conditioning to where you’re really starting to talk ball and coming together, putting both sides of the ball together leading into your shells and helmets week, and on our calendar, the way we do things, that’s where we would have been, and we’re not able to do that,” he said. “We’re still rolling our 25-man pods (during workouts) and doing what is asked of us to create a safer place to be.”
The LHSAA said it is committed to having a fall sports season provided it can do so safely.
“I do understand the governor’s orders and all that,” Live Oak coach Blane Westmoreland said. “For our kids, I just wish we could give our kids a definitive answer. That seems to be the thing that is disheartening. I want to be able to look at my kids and tell them the truth and tell them what we’re looking at. Unfortunately, nobody knows what we’re looking at.”
“I think everybody thought we’d be back and ready to go and life would be normal by now, but this seems to be the new normal for at least a little while longer,” Westmoreland continued.
Beard echoed those sentiments.
“It’s just the unknown of what we’re dealing with,” he said. “You can’t come out and say we’re going to play in five weeks because you don’t really know if you can play in five weeks. We’ve got to get into this a little farther, and hopefully it’s getting better.”
Walker, meanwhile, wrapped up its summer conditioning workouts last week.
“Obviously, there’s still a lot to be determined, but we’re just preparing and keeping on with the things we’re able to do,” Walker coach Chad Mahaffey said. “We feel like we had a good summer as far as what we did and I thought the players and coaches all did a good job of keeping the regulations that we’re under (and) executing a lot of stuff under those guidelines.”
Louisiana High School Athletic Association Executive Director Eddie Bonine said football won’t be played until the group’s Phase 4 is reached, which in its simplest terms, means getting past the LHSAA’s Phase 3. The biggest part of the equation right now, however, might just be getting into Phase 3, which would allow teams to begin football-related workouts with helmets and pads and work with tackling dummies and hand shields without hitting each other.
Westmoreland said he doesn’t think his team’s scheduled scrimmage with St. Amant will be happening simply based on the logistics of getting from one phase to another in a timely manner.
“Even in Phase 3, we still can’t hit each other,” Westmoreland said. “If we come out and do two weeks, that’s Aug. 7 and we go to Phase 3, so that’s fine. We can get in pads on that Monday (Aug. 10). You know we’re going to get at least two weeks of that. We’re not going to go from Phase 2 to ‘all is clear’ within two weeks, so once we go from Phase 2 to Phase 3, which allows us to have contact, we’re going to be in that phase for at least weeks. We’re in pads, but we’re not having contact. We’re not tackling. We’re not doing those type of things. By now, you’re looking at what, the 24th (of August). Now you’re into the jamboree week and you’re still hitting tackling dummies and things. I do believe we’re going to have some changes to the season. What those are right now, I don’t know.”
Mahaffey said the key to keeping this season’s schedule as close to ‘normal’ as possible will come with moving into Phase 3, but the state has to get there.
“I think if we got the good news with Phase 3 and there’s no more delays, I don’t think we’d be effected a whole lot, but I think any delays beyond that will certainly probably start to cut into some portion of the season, and at that point, the LHSAA will just decide where they want to trim, whether it’s a scrimmage or a playoff or a regular season (game), and they’ve just got to figure out those questions,” Mahaffey said. “Just the day-to-day stuff that we’re doing is obviously different, so there’s no doubt it will be different. But I think at some point I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to kind of get back to a fairly normal routine and there will still be I’m sure temperature checks and things that are not the norm, but as far as what we’re actually doing, I think we’ll be able to get there this year, just a question of when.”
Beard is hopeful the only change to the schedule will involve pushing games back a bit.
“I think if you talk to all of us, if it came down to having to move our state championships and (having) to move it away from the Dome for a year, I think we’re perfectly fine with making that happen as long as we can play the closest to what we think is a 10-game season or a full slate,” he said. “We’re willing to do whatever we can to get our kids to play.”
“It’s going to be different,” Beard continued. “I can handle different and I can handle all the planning. I can handle everything that you throw at me to make sure these kids have a chance to play and are ready to play.”
Westmoreland, however, had another take on what this season’s schedule could look like.
“I don’t think the push back (on the schedule) is where we’re going to go,” Westmoreland said. “I think we’re going to get abbreviated at best. Unfortunately, I have to sit here and say that.”
Beard was also mindful of what pushing the football schedule back could do in regard to other sports over the course of the school year.
“Depending on what happens on the 7th (of August), it could be a combination of both – a pushback and an abbreviation, because you also don’t want to (mess) over the kids in other sports in other seasons,” he said. “You don’t want to push back so far to where it really interrupts basketball season and the job those guys have got to do and the kids that want to do that. There’s a lot of people involved here.”
Beard and Mahaffey are optimistic about the football season.
“That’s what I addressed this (Monday) morning,”’ Beard said of talking to his team. “Guys, nobody has any answers, but I will tell you this – I think we’re playing football. It’s just a matter of when. Like I told them, we’re going to be ready. So if it’s in three weeks, six weeks – if it’s tomorrow – somebody calls Denham Springs and says, ‘are you ready to play?’ We’re ready to play.”
“We talk to our kids about … worry about the things that you can control, and we don’t really have any control over some of those things, so I think all we can do is enjoy our time together (and) be prepared as we can be for whenever we’re able to get out there and get going,” Mahaffey said.
A problem could come if the state is forced to drop back to Phase One of reopening, something Gov. John Bel Edwards brought up last week in the wake of rising hospitalizations because of COVID-19.
“If we go to Phase One, we’re in trouble,” Beard said. “I’ll be the first person to say that. I think if we were to go to Phase One, we would be in trouble. I can tell you this, as long as we’re not going backwards, we feel like at Denham Springs, we’re moving forward, we’ve still got a chance. If we go backwards, that would be a big blow.”
Westmoreland and Beard were quick to point out there’s no blame involved in the situation regarding sports and COVID-19, with both acknowledging everything being done on the state and local levels is taking place with the safety of athletes in mind first.
“Our district has done an outstanding job of trying to get us back to school and things, and I applaud them for that, but it’s going to be interesting to see what happens starting Aug. 7, not only in Livingston Parish, but across the state,” Westmoreland said while noting the New Orleans area is still under heavy restrictions.
“It’s so disheartening for our kids and our athletes,” Westmoreland continued. “We just don’t know what to tell them. It’s no one’s fault. It’s not a school district’s fault. It’s not a Department of Education or an LHSAA thing. It’s just no one knows where we’re going. It’s kind of like this was in March. We didn’t have any clue, so we’re doing what we can, and I applaud the people in the positions that are making these decisions, because I don’t want to be making them. I think they’ve done everything, and I think they are putting our kids first, and they are thinking about not only our students but our student-athletes.”