Sweetwater team

The Sweetwater football team is one of three county programs that have been cleared to begin practice on June 1.

High school sports teams recently heard good news on the COVID-19 front for a change.

Sequoyah, Sweetwater and Tellico Plains have all been cleared to begin football practice on June 1, according to Chiefs head coach Ryan Bolinger, Wildcats head coach Mike Martin and Bears head coach Jon Rechtorovic.

The Monroe County School System/Central Office made the decision to grant clearance to the three programs, as the TSSAA has effectively stepped aside and put the power in the hands of local governments.

“(The) TSSAA is basically putting it at the discretion of the individual school systems as long as they abide by state guidelines,” Bolinger said.

Abiding by state guidelines means that teams will have to take extra measures to follow social distancing protocol.

“There’s all types of different guidelines, but the biggie is we have to keep six feet apart and we have to have groups of no more than 10 people, and that’s including coaches,” Martin said.

The Wildcats’ practices will just be focused on strength and conditioning for the time being. Martin said that, in the weight room, after each player performs a lift, the equipment will have to be wiped down and disinfected.

“It’s a little bit different, or a lot different, than what we’ve been used to, but we’ve just got to spread them out, keep them apart,” Martin said.

Martin said that Sweetwater’s coaching staff has already held multiple meetings, and will have more, to prepare to handle the situation.

“We’ll use all of our resources,” Martin said. “All of our practice fields. We’ll probably have to use our game field and just keep everybody separated. They’re not going to have access to the locker rooms. There will be no gathering in the locker rooms … as of right now.

“Once we get to the next phase or whatever, things might loosen up a little, but that’s the biggies right there. Just keep things disinfected after each group uses them, and the other thing for us, we’re going to keep all the kids in their same group every day, so they’re going to be with that same group every day. They’re not going to mix groups, so that way, we think we can be safe too.”

County teams were originally cleared to begin practice prior to June 1, but the date was moved back, according to Martin. He knows it’s possible that the current start-date could be pushed back as well.

He’s been in contact with numerous coaches, all trying to figure out how to handle this unprecedented situation. Teams around the state are starting practices on different dates, as it is up to their local governments to give the individual go-ahead.

Martin said he will also abide by guidelines recently published by the National Federation of State High School Associations until things change.

“Our first focus will be, of course, safety … we’ve got three weeks until dead period,” Martin said. “So our focus is just going to be strength and conditioning and also just getting them back together and try to get some normalcy, even if it’s going to be different when we’re here.

“But at least we’re all here.”

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