Ridgeland replaces Dunwoody on schedule.
By Andy Diffenderfer, Sports Editor
Strategies to keep Rabun County High football fans, players and all Friday-night personnel safe at ballgames during the COVID-19 presence remain fluid as the season approaches a scheduled early-September kickoff.
RCHS principal Justin Spillers said in a Sunday email the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) is leaving safety plans and attendance policies up to local officials and boards of education. Spillers and Wildcat head football coach and athletic director Jaybo Shaw have been in constant communication with Rabun County Schools Superintendent April Childers and the GHSA.
Georgia starting target is Sept. 4
While other states have pushed the start of their football seasons back a few weeks or even to the spring, the GHSA, as of Aug. 12, held true to a Sept. 4 launch. Spillers said the association has indicated it would provide guidance on best practices prior to kickoff, but that guidance would come closer to that start date.
“As a school, we are closely monitoring the situation regarding the spread of COVID-19 in our own community and across the state,” he said. “While we are working to develop a plan based on the Department of Public health and CDC guidelines, along with the Public Health Emergency Order guidelines for sports venues, we will likely wait as long as possible to finalize and release that plan.”
“We are striving to open schools and maintain a high level of safety through enhanced measures,” Childers said in an email. “We strongly encourage students to wear face masks, especially at the middle and high school. As far as extracurricular activities, our goal is to provide these opportunities for our students if at all possible. We are currently in softball and volleyball season, and so far the safety measures are working. We ask that all fans practice social distancing at these events.”
List of precautions is evolving
At Rabun County, social distancing will be required, and signage outlining those guidelines will be displayed throughout Frank Snyder Memorial Stadium. Hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the arena as well. Safety protocols for officials and visiting team locker rooms are being enhanced.
Also being implemented is a digital ticket option along with a cash-less payment option for ticket purchases. Concession stands will be cash-less, and lines will be more structured to allow for required social distancing.
The list of precautions, the principal said, will continue to evolve as the season-opener nears.
“Our goal is to provide the safest possible environment for our student athletes, coaches and our community when attending any event on campus, and we want to make sure we are basing our decisions on the most current guidance available,” he said.
While endorsing a Sept. 4 opening week, the GHSA did however, recently cancel preseason scrimmages and suggested that date could change based on updated COVID-19 information.
“As numbers dictate over the next two weeks, a decision will be forthcoming with regard to the football start date,” the association posted to its website Aug. 12. “There is always a possibility of postponement based on the data and advice from our medical professionals.”
Wildcats hitting road for opener
Since Rabun County announced its 2020 football slate last winter, the schedule has undergone massive upheaval as five original opponents had their seasons postponed or chose not to play thanks to COVID-19.
DeKalb County recently postponed fall sports until at least Oct. 1, which took the Sept. 4 season-opener against Dunwoody off the Wildcats’ schedule. Shaw confirmed Tuesday that Rabun instead will play that night at Class 4A Ridgeland in Walker County. Kickoff will be 7:30 p.m.
“As of this one, I’m still looking to fill one more,” Shaw said, pointing to a potential date in October to fill out a full 10-game regular season.
Around the South, Tennessee and Alabama have set Aug. 21 starting dates, Arkansas Aug. 28, Florida and Mississippi Sept. 4, Kentucky Sept. 11, South Carolina Sept. 25, and Louisiana Oct. 9, according to the Georgia High School Football Daily online newsletter. North Carolina and Virginia plan to start Feb. 26 and March 5.
Spillers said meetings have been held with Region 8-AA principals and athletic directors to ensure continuity across campuses regarding expectations for student-athletes, coaches and fans attending games.
Administrators have also been in contact with schools the Wildcats will be facing outside their region, he said. They are all in similar stages of planning based on current information but waiting as long as possible to cement those plans.
“We're excited to safely welcome our fans back to Frank Snyder Memorial Stadium, and we encourage everyone to continue doing their part today to ensure our student-athletes have the opportunity to compete and represent Rabun County this fall,” he said.