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Murphy: GHSA should be credited with swift decision about playing fall sports
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Cherokee Bluff quarterback Mason Thomas releases a pass Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, during the first half of the Bears win over Johnson High at the Cherokee Bluff stadium. - photo by Scott Rogers

The Georgia High School Association deserves praise for making a swift decision about playing fall sports. 

On Monday, the state’s governing body of high school athletics said unanimously that sports would go on as planned. The only exception is football’s regular season would go on a two-week delay, but will still have a full 10-game regular season and five rounds of the postseason. 

Football players have been preparing since June 8 with voluntary conditioning. Now, practice will begin in earnest July 27 with a normal acclimation period. 

Not everybody is pleased with the GHSA’s decision as we all try to do our part to eliminate COVID-19.

There would have been a much more robust faction of irate spectators and athletes if the plug was pulled on fall sports. 

Ultimately, it’s for the players who see endless benefits to being a part of team sports.

The GHSA is winning in the court of public opinion. 

But it’s not a decision they take lightly. 

Health and safety of everyone in contact with athletes is the larger picture.

In this instance, the people who make decisions about high school sports in Georgia came to the right conclusion.

There’s valid arguments for both playing sports and putting a pause to games because of the coronavirus. It would be easy to straddle both sides of the fence without giving athletes across the state a clear direction.

Hypothetical situations are also tossed around, most being completely valid concerns about playing during a national pandemic.

We’ve seen a split with states across the country going in vastly different directions. 

With regards to the coronavirus, there should be wiggle room for the GHSA. 

We’re dealing with unprecedented times and, thus, have to be flexible as new data becomes available. 

Having high schools sports has a direct impact on students’ future and society as a whole. It’s not just an emotional argument; it’s reality.

Academic requirements to play sports help keep students in line who were at risk of going off the rails or dropping out of school.

Young people with nothing left to lose are going to present an imminent risk to society.

And for students from a low-income background and broken home lives, sports provide a positive outlet.

These points don’t discount the impact of coronavirus, but are aspects that have to be clearly considered before halting high school sports. 

Currently, Hall County is fifth in the state in confirmed COVID-19 cases (4,528) and 68 deaths, according to data Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A spike earlier this month in cases statewide had to be factored in with the risk to the general public from high school athletes being in close contact to one another. There’s a risk with everything in life. People will be exposed to coronavirus who might not if sports were on hiatus.

Should we get two weeks deep into the 2020 season and see a sharp spike in coronavirus numbers, the GHSA will need to step in and say ‘enough is enough.’ 

They’re trying to fight the good fight, while putting human lives first. 

“The GHSA has done a good job of dotting its I’s and crossing its T’s before making a decision,” Chestatee High football coach Shaun Conley said.

Making a decision is one of the hardest things to see through to fruition in a society where everything goes through a blender of political correctness and weighed heavily with the possibility of litigation. There’s also people who hope for the worst-case scenario for the sake or being able to say, ‘See, I told you so.’

Currently, pro sports teams are fighting the never-ending battle about mascots. 

The Atlanta Braves have removed the ‘Chop On’ statue from in front of Truist Park, but yet to come to any decision on the Tomahawk Chop. The Washington Redskins have done everything imaginable to minimize the ferocity of negative headlines with no success after one public relations nightmare after another. 

High school sports remain very different. Teenagers playing sports is, primarily, a matter of optimizing physical and mental health. The benefits of camaraderie can’t be understated. 

Coaches certainly don’t get rich and athletes aren’t compensated financially. 

It’s the purest form of sports. 

But common sense is prevailing. In Gainesville and Hall County, most people are abiding by wearing a mouth and nose covering. 

Football players in Hall County will do whatever it takes to be able to have a season. 

“I just want to play football,” senior Gainesville offensive lineman Ced Nicely said last week.

Politicians are probably the only group making the issue worse. 

Both sides want to get a gold star and pat on the back for winning the issue. 

It’s compounded with this being a Presidential election year. 

God, help up all. 

Hearts will be broken if sports are pulled back after being given the green light earlier this week. 

However, there has to be understanding that decisions about playing sports are not taken lightly. If a greater spike in cases takes place before football season kicks off on September 4, there should be someone to step in and call timeout on kids taking the field. 

I’ve talked to enough coaches, players and parents of athletes in recent weeks to know that athletics is something they desperately need and personal liability they’re willing to shoulder themselves. High school sports is something we took for granted until the state put a halt to spring sports on March 13 and called off the remainder of the 2020 spring season only a few weeks later, at the direction of Governor Brian Kemp. 

Most interviewed came down on the side of getting back on the field. That’s exactly what the GHSA ruled in executive board meeting among its 12 voters in Thomaston. 

Selfishly, I also fully support a return to sports. 

It’s my job. 

Games are good for my employment status. 

However, nobody is calling for players to put their well-being in jeopardy for the entertainment of fans and media. 

We should all continue to wear a mask to limit the risk of exposure. Measures, not yet in place, should also limit attendance of fans in the stands. Modern technology can meet us in the middle so people willing to watch from home can do so. 

However, taking sports away should be the very last option. 

It might not be a popular decision across the board. 

Yet, the GHSA was willing to pick a side. Now, high school athletes across the state who play football, volleyball, softball or run cross country can spend the next few weeks preparing for games and events that count. 

Kids in other states aren’t so fortunate. 

Virginia has put a halt to football in the fall, while California is pushing it back to the spring. 

Texas ruled Tuesday that it would delay the start of football in its largest classifications, where the state has the highest population density (Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio). Smaller classifications would proceed as normal across the Lone Star State. 

Georgia is similar in regards to the highest numbers of coronavirus surfacing in or near the big city. 

The four highest counties with confirmed cases are the biggest in metropolitan Atlanta (Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett and DeKalb).

Nobody, I’m aware of, is saying coronavirus is not a real threat to safety. However, the scientific community has equipped us with knowledge to best prevent its spread. Soon there will hopefully be an ample supply of a vaccine, which drug companies are clamoring to get on the market, once approved by the FDA.


Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times and can be reached at bmurphy@gainesvilletimes.com or @Bill_Murphy313 on Twitter.

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