Woodland head coach Blair Armstrong is aware that what he’s about to say has become something of a cliché. So before the cliché he offers a disclaimer.
“I’m going to use one of those comments that you hear everywhere,” he says.
And then he makes the statement that sums up the story statewide as official football practices have begun amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a plan, but it’s fluid. It could change at a moment’s notice,” Armstrong says.
So begins a football season where the only thing that is certain is what has already happened. As these words are written local schools have practiced for two days in preparation for the 2020 season.
And while some schools in the state have already opted out of fall sports altogether, there is no indication that that will be the case locally. But that doesn’t mean that uncertainty is absent.
Two schools are already scrambling to fill a hole in their schedules after Georgia shifted its football schedule back two weeks.
All of the schools are working on important decisions about how to conduct the season. Will fans be allowed at games? If so, will there be capacity limitations? What about the band and the cheerleaders?
The answers to those questions have been left up to the local school administrators, after the AHSAA last Thursday announced they would not make a blanket attendance rule for the state and deferred those decisions to the individual school systems.
For Handley and Roanoke City Schools most of those questions remain unanswered at the moment.
“We are so tied up right now with how we’re going to do practice, how we’re going to open school, how we’re going to teach the different classes. We haven’t even gotten to the issue of fans yet. We haven’t discussed it yet,” said Handley head coach Larry Strain.
Strain has his preferences.
“If I had my druthers I’d have everybody in the stands,” he said. But he knows that decision is complex and will involve school administrators assessing how to best accommodate all the interested parties.
“If I could put everybody in the stands and wear a mask and be fine, that would be fine with me,” Strain said. “But I don’t feel like that’s the way it’s going to go.”
No final decisions have been reached for the county schools either, but Armstrong says those talks are further along within the county school system as they seek to make a uniform policy for Woodland, Wadley and Randolph County High Schools.
Armstrong was confident that the finalized plan will not leave fans on the outside looking in.
“This is just discussions. We haven’t put anything on a piece of paper yet or made up any signs,” he said. “We’re basically going to encourage social distancing as much as possible. We’ll probably move the band to a different area so we can have more seating for fans. We’ll encourage masks.”
Another challenge for both Woodland and Handley is completing their regular season schedules.
Both schools have a Georgia team on their schedules. But Georgia will be starting its football season two weeks later than originally planned, so now they have to try to fill those holes.
The solution for Woodland could end up being a relatively simple one as it pertains to their game against Wilkinson County, which was originally set for August 28. It turns out both teams have an open week on their schedule for the following week, so it appears they will be able to simply reschedule for September 4.
“I’ve just got to check on whether we can travel or not,” Armstrong said Monday. “They actually had an open date set up the same week we had an open date. We didn’t know this until today.”
For Handley the solution is not as obvious. Their game against Lamar County on September 11 is out and cannot be rescheduled. So Strain has hit the phones to try to find an opponent for that week.
One potential solution to Strain’s scheduling conundrum may arise from the handful of schools that are already opting out of the season altogether. Both Greene County and Sumter Central have said they will not field sports teams in the fall. Barbour County also announced it will not play football in 2020. That leaves Leroy, American Christian and Notasulga without an opponent that week.
“I’m going to try to call the schools that they were playing in that third week,” Strain said. “That was a hard game to find anyway. I’m going to try, but there’s no guarantees.”
There’s no guarantees. That just about sums up this sure-to-be-strange 2020 football season that has only just begun.