GEORGIA — The Georgia High School Association, the state’s governing body for high school sports, voted July 20 to push back the start of prep football two weeks.
The order allows for a full, 10-game regular season.
All other fall sports, including cross-country, volleyball and softball, will begin in early August as originally scheduled.
The move comes as some the state’s largest school districts — including Fulton, Gwinnett and Dekalb counties — have opted to continue virtual learning to start the 2020-21 academic year.
The GHSA Board of Trustees voted unanimously, 12-0, to delay the football season while keeping other fall sports on track to start on time.
“It’s a huge decision,” said Steven Craft, Fulton County athletic director and a member of the Board of Trustees. “We want to provide this opportunity to our student athletes, and we owe it to them. But we want to make sure it is done in a safe and great environment, and this gives everyone the opportunity to do that.”
The GHSA’s decision comes the same day the California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees California prep sports, elected to delay all fall sports until December or January.
“I know other states have moved their seasons completely, but I think everyone is in a different place,” Craft said. “I think this shows that we have all moved together as a group. Everyone in the room understood how important athletics is for these kids’ mental well-being, and it provides a daily routine. And there are a lot of different things that keeps kids excited about school, and athletics is a part of that. It was good to see that come out today and see how willing everyone was to be able to provide that.”
A vote to have all sports return as originally scheduled was voted down, 8-4. Craft was one of the board members to vote against the measure.
Craft said he cast his nay vote because the football delay will allow school systems to get open and comfortable in in their processes before allowing games. Some might struggle if the season started as originally scheduled, he said, adding the delay gives athletes more time to recondition their bodies after months in quarantine.
The board did not approve the delay for other fall sports because football requires far more equipment be worn in the outdoor heat, so it presents a safety issue if players aren’t properly acclimated physically, Craft said.
At least one North Fulton football team has earned a berth in a state championship game in each of the last four years. If that streak continues, a team could be lifting the state title trophy post-Christmas.
Originally, the state championships were to be held Dec. 10-12. A two-week season delay would put the finals during the week of Christmas.
Craft said the board is still working out how it will approach that week. Everything else, including the Corky Kell Classic Kickoff that will feature West Forsyth and Denmark this year, should essentially just be moved back two weeks.
While the kickoff to the 2020 football season is delayed, other fall sports are gearing up for their first full practices and games.
Softball, volleyball, cross-country and cheerleading can begin practices Aug 1. Softball teams can hold their first games Aug. 6, with volleyball matches and cross-country meets beginning as early as Aug. 10.
Concerns over how schools will open this year has been a contentious issue, and that has extended to fall athletics. While the local sports landscape quickly heralded the GHSA decision, others have argued against a return to fall sports as coronavirus cases have surged to record levels in recent weeks.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported July 14 that the state’s schools had reported around 300 positive cases of COVID-19 among athletes and staff.
Earlier this month, Milton head football coach Adam Clack shared he has tested positive for COVID-19. Positive cases also halted summer conditioning at three Forsyth County high schools in June.