Like most of the public schools in South Carolina, the A.C. Flora football team took the field Friday for its first official practice of the season.
The Falcons are coming off their first state football championship, one of five won by the school last season on its way to winning the Carlisle Cup for their classification. The Carlisle Cup recognizes the athletic department in each classification that has excelled and shown superior performance.
Excessive heat put a damper somewhat on Flora’s practice, which began later than normal Friday morning because of team pictures. The practice ended after about an hour because of high temperatures in the Midlands.
The high temperatures usually comes into play when practice begins in late July or early August. Coaches also have to continue to worry about the spread of COVID-19, which made for an ever-changing fall sports season last year.
On Friday, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported 2,203 new cases of COVID-19.
“We are going to keep our fingers crossed and hopefully this will level out and stay as we were (earlier in the summer),” Flora football coach Dustin Curtis said.
Most coaches are hopeful there will be more of a normal season this year. The State sent an anonymous survey to area coaches. Of the 11 coaches who responded, nine believe COVID-19 will have less of an impact on the season while two said it will be the same as last year.
Last fall, S.C. public schools didn’t start playing regular-season games until September with only seven games scheduled, mostly against region opponents. Playoffs were shortened so teams would be able to make up games if needed.
According to the S.C. High School League, 10% to 12% of football games were either canceled or postponed last season, including the Class 2A football championship between Marion and Abbeville. The game was played two weeks after the scheduled date because of COVID-19 issues within the Marion football team.
This year, teams are back playing 10-game schedules and playoffs are back to 32 teams per classification as in previous years. As of now, there isn’t likely to be any restriction on attendance at games this year, but that decision is being left up to each school district.
Unlike last year, there aren’t any weeks built in at the end of the season for postponed games to be made up. SCHSL commissioner Jerome Singleton told The State last week that schools would be responsible for making up games and the league wouldn’t become involved until the postseason.
In South Carolina, region games are the only games that help determine who makes the postseason.
“We are going to start out like we are, but if we have to make adjustments, I am confident that our membership will do whatever is necessary to protect our kids,” Singleton said. “I was so impressed with how they handled themselves (last year) even though we had some hiccups. If they continue to practice that, it gives us our best chance to have a full season without forfeitures or cancel.
“Will there be some? Absolutely. This virus is moving and changing its form and getting another variant. But our message to them was to continue to practice protocols for health and safety as far as cleaning, sanitation that they did last year.”
In a video released this month, the National Federation of High Schools president Karissa Niehoff said 25% to 30% of high school age students have received the vaccines. During the two-minute video, Niehoff talked about precautions against heat and COVID-19, which would include the opportunity for students to be vaccinated.
“We recommend you use mitigation strategies such as mask-wearing, the cleaning of equipment and washing your hands. We also recommend that you embrace opportunities for vaccination.,” Niehoff said. “... Go into this fall, back to school, back to activities with health and safety in mind.”
As far as getting the vaccine, Singleton said it is up to the individual to decide whether to get one and there won’t be any mandate from the league that an athlete needs to be vaccinated to play sports. The high school league has partnered with DHEC and the Department of Education to set up mini vaccination clinics.
“We want to help them to get access. We will support their decision in place for involvement in that,” Singleton said.
Curtis said he is leaving whether to be vaccinated or not up to his players and coaches. Flora went last season without missing a game because of COVID-19 but had to be quarantined two days after the title game when a coach tested positive.
“Going in where a lot of kids are vaccinated but still there are some that aren’t,” Curtis said. “It is a family decision for everyone and it is America and we are going to respect that. But certainly if you are vaccinated you don’t have to quarantine for close contact. If you aren’t vaccinated, you do. Kids understand the risk and understand they can miss a game or two depending on the timing of it.”