COVID-19 derails spring sports

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By Andy Diffenderfer

Sports editor

  • Andy Diffenderfer/The Clayton Tribune Rabun County High baseball player Grayson Carver heads to first base in a recent game. Thanks to COVID-19, RCHS, Tallulah Falls and Rabun Gap-Nacoochee are sidelining spring sports.
    Andy Diffenderfer/The Clayton Tribune Rabun County High baseball player Grayson Carver heads to first base in a recent game. Thanks to COVID-19, RCHS, Tallulah Falls and Rabun Gap-Nacoochee are sidelining spring sports.
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When the subject is COVID-19 and its effects on spring high- and middle-school athletics in Rabun County, the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. 

Fields and courts normally teeming with spring sports are dormant, the virus threats triggering a wave of cancellations for Rabun County High, the Tallulah Falls School and Rabun Gap-Nacoochee. Target dates for returns to competition can be educated guesses depending on how the situation develops or deteriorates.

Shaw: Student 

safety is first priority

“I’ve never dealt with something like this,” said Rabun County High athletic director Jaybo Shaw, even reflecting on his own time as a student-athlete. “It’s unprecedented times, and it’s unfortunate with our spring sports.”

Gov. Brian Kemp decreed all public schools be shuttered until March 31 to hopefully help reduce transmission in communities across Georgia.

“We can’t do anything athletic-wise until school resumes,” he said. “The GHSA and us as an athletic program, we’ll find out what that looks like when we do go back to school.”

Many questions linger, such as where spring sports would resume once — or if — they restart. In the meantime, the student-athletes who have put in the time and sweat toward flourishing in their sport will have to wait. 

“There’s so much uncertainty, and you just don’t know where to go from here as far as athletics go,” he said. “The No. 1 priority within our athletic program is the safety of our student-athletes and unfortunately, our spring sports are going to be on hold for a little while.”

“I hate it for our student-athletes, especially our seniors,” Shaw said. “You can only control the things that you can control. That’s easier said than done. I’m sure they’re disappointed and bummed out a little bit.”

Middle-school sports were cancelled for the remainder of their seasons, according to Shaw.

Rabun Gap target

date is April 6

Weather problems may have rerouted the Rabun Gap schedule a bit before, according to athletic director Dale Earnhardt, “but nothing quite like this.”

Rabun Gap athletics have been cancelled until April 6, though it’s premature to know how the rest of the spring schedule and state competitions will play out. 

“If things change, they could start earlier, but what I’ve told our people is we’re planning on April 6 as kind of the date we’re shooting for right now,” said Earnhardt, also the Lady Eagles’ basketball coach. 

The stresses will be safety, and closely eyeballing COVID-19’s projected development and overall effects. According to its website, the school’s scheduled spring break ran Feb. 28 through Monday. 

“Who knows?” he said. “It may change in such a way in two weeks that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and then again, it may be it’s progressing the way we thought, and we need to shut things down another week or two. I just think we’ll take it a little bit at a time.”

Making up cancelled games would be difficult since many opponents will be in the same boat, leaving the option of resuming where the schedules left off.

“Everything happened so quickly,” he said. “I hope by early April, things are somewhat back to normal, but I really think it’s going to depend on how the country handles the recommendations that are being passed down so we keep it from spreading.”

“We’ve got to stay positive,” he said. “I told somebody, ‘If we are able to jump back into it in a few weeks, it’s going to be full speed ahead.’”

‘Everybody’s in a

holding pattern’

Athletic activities at Tallulah Falls are suspended until April 14. The interruption includes the school’s spring break, set for April 3-13.

“We won’t come back earlier,” athletic director Scott Neal said Monday. “Our decision is already that basically we’re going to online classes on Wednesday (March 18) because we already had our spring break scheduled.”

While professional sports leagues and college associations either postponed or cancelled their competitions outright, “I’m fortunate that at least we’re waiting, because we don’t know what the future holds,” he said. 

Neal, in his 21st year at the school, called COVID-19 and its scope of impact on school functions unprecedented. 

“Everybody’s in a holding pattern,” he said. “The context is we don’t have an experience filter for this because it hasn’t happened before, something to this magnitude, and the possibilities of what might not happen.”

What happens with the rest of the Indian athletic schedules is undetermined. 

“Quite frankly, nobody knows,” he said.

According to the athletic director, now is a time for TFS student-athletes to stay healthy, embrace a unique learning opportunity, and build on their core values. 

“It’s important in their lives, it’s educational,” he said of athletics. “It’s part of their lives. It’s not a hobby. They train for it and learn and they get the values of life skills and discipline and character. During that time when those things aren’t happening, they’re going to have to do those things on their own, whatever manner they can.”

“It’s a different opportunity for you to strengthen your own character,” he said. “Are you going to continue to learn?”