Jon Rechtorovic is well aware of how his team feels.
“The Tellico Plains Bears want to play football,” Rechtorovic, Tellico’s head coach, told The Advocate & Democrat.
That sentiment is shared by numerous football players and coaches around Monroe County. The future of the 2020 season is in question due to the COVID-19 crisis, and recent events made the reality even murkier.
Following Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s extension of the COVID-19 State of Emergency order to Aug. 29, the TSSAA Board of Control met Wednesday to go over options for fall sport start dates.
While cross country, volleyball and golf seasons will start on time, football and girls soccer saw their seasons pushed back because of Lee’s order, which prohibited prep teams’ participation in contact sports.
The Board was presented with four options for the upcoming football season: a seven-game regular season with a 32-team playoff and two additional games for non-playoff teams, an eight-game regular season with a 16-team playoff and two additional games for non-playoff teams, a nine-game regular season with just region champions in the playoffs and one additional game for non-playoff teams, and a no-playoff scenario.
Local coaches each have their own opinions on how the atypical season should look. Rechtorovic’s view is clear.
“We would like to play our full schedule, but if it has to be shortened, then it needs to include a state championship,” Rechtorovic said. “Just let us play some football.”
Hope for normalcy
Mike Martin has been on a beach vacation with his family during the TSSAA-mandated Dead Period, but that hasn’t stopped the Sweetwater head coach from keeping track of the situation.
“As a coach, when all I do is lay on the beach all day, that’s all I do is think about it,” Martin said. “So I’ve had plenty of time to think about it.”
Martin, who also serves as Sweetwater’s assistant principal and athletic director, prefers the eight-game option, as he would like to see everything stay as close to normal as possible. He knows, though, that nothing will truly be normal.
“To me, you’re keeping everything as close to normal as possible (with the eight-game option), if that can even be said,” Martin said. “I prefer that, but for our kids’ sake … I think football is important. I hope that doesn’t come out wrong with everything that is going on in this world today.
“I think our kids need not just football, but sports in general. I think they’re important to them and I think these kids enjoy being around each other and enjoy the comradery that you have with each other. Of course, we’ve got to preach safety. That’s the number one issue. But if we can keep it as close to normal as possible … that’s the (option) I chose.”
Martin hasn’t spoken with any other Monroe County coaches about the issue, but he did run into a coach from a neighboring area while at the beach and talked with him about it. Martin said, personally, he would “do anything,” including being open to switching the fall and spring sports seasons.
As for now, the Wildcats will approach practice the same way they did before the dead period. Martin said he and his staff will continue to check temperatures and undergo social distancing procedures.
The Wildcats will still work on fundamentals and installing scheme, but teams are prohibited from anything that involves contact, such as 7-on-7 drills.
“My plan was to start (practicing in) helmets when we came back,” Martin said. “But with that being said, we’re not going to have access to the locker rooms, so I may have to look at that and see what we can do.”
Truth better than rumors
The options presented by the TSSAA actually came as a pleasant surprise to Sequoyah head coach Ryan Bolinger.
“(They were) actually better than what I was anticipating,” Bolinger said.
He had heard speculation regarding the options the day prior to the meeting, and preferred what was actually presented to what the rumors detailed.
“They’re not bad,” Bolinger said. “Definitely better, I guess, than what all we were hearing Tuesday. I was pleased with what they had to offer.”
Bolinger has been conversing with multiple coaches regarding their opinions on the options. The results have been mixed, but no coaches seem to favor the fourth, no-playoff option, he said.
“Everyone’s different across the board,” Bolinger said. “Depends on where their team is at, what their schedule is like. Depending on how good they are, if they’re not good, whatever that case may be.”
Bolinger plans on continuing how his team has practiced this summer, with social distancing and an emphasis on strength and conditioning, until further guidelines are announced.
“Just focus on our goals,” Bolinger said, “and not the distractions.”