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Georgia joined the ranks of other states around the country Monday in choosing to delay the start of the 2020 high school football season.

The Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Board of Trustees met and voted 12-0 to push the entire season back two weeks, meaning play will begin Sept. 4 rather than Aug. 21. Carrying on the football season as originally scheduled was voted down by an 8-4 tally, according to meeting minutes provided by the GHSA. Locally the decision affects Baldwin High School and GMC Prep, but not John Milledge Academy who is a Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) member. As of now, John Milledge’s season is scheduled to begin Aug. 28.

The entire 10-game GHSA regular season will remain intact along with the five-week state playoffs, and practices can still begin Monday, July 27.

Unlike the board’s May meeting where it was decided summer workouts could begin June 8, Monday’s meeting with much higher stakes was not livestreamed for the public to watch/listen along. A GHSA spokesperson told The Union-Recorder in a Monday morning email that no votes would be taken, and that it was only for discussion purposes.

The minutes reveal that the board heard from one parent who said the benefits of playing sports outweighed the risks with COVID-19. “Much discussion” took place afterward, including the fact that an Atlanta Public Schools representative said the system “might be the first district to cancel fall sports completely if the football season is not pushed back two weeks.” Based on the minutes, it is unclear what purpose this extra two weeks will serve for the GHSA and its member schools. 

Meanwhile, California announced Monday that its schools’ football seasons are being delayed until either December or January. Other states have also made the call already to push their seasons back to varying degrees in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Baldwin High School head football coach Jesse Hicks can be counted among those who wanted to see Georgia move its season further than the decision made by GHSA Monday.

“We have to understand that as coaches, educators, parents and people in this community — and I'm talking about the Baldwin County community because that’s all I can speak on — is that we have been given stewardship by God over these young people,” Hicks said in a Monday phone interview. “That means that these young people need guidance. Our job is to put them in the best situation, whether that be academically, socially, athletically or spiritually, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. I just don’t think that right now moving the season back two weeks is going to help with a virus that we don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going.”

Hicks pointed to the statistic that positive COVID-19 cases among teenagers is rising and some lower-division college football conferences are suspending their seasons as reasons to wait for high school teams to take the field.

“We’re still going to attempt to play a sport when the betterment of our young people is at hand? I don’t think that’s the morally or ethically correct thing to do. I’m just like anyone else who loves competition, loves to win and loves coaching football, but at the cost of someone getting sick or taking this virus back into their homes — some of our young people have grandparents or older people living with them… To be honest with you, I don’t really think the GHSA is concerned a lot about our children, our coaches or our community. If they did they would make a better decision and push the season back further, but that’s not my decision to make. It’s just one man’s opinion.”

Second-year GMC Prep head coach Lee Coleman sees positives and negatives to the GHSA board’s decision.

“I’m torn,” Coleman said. “I would have preferred to keep the start of the season where it was because if they wind up canceling the season at least my seniors would have gotten the opportunity to put their uniform on. Moving it back two weeks, school will have started and I feel like that’s going to cause a bigger outbreak. I’m afraid now we might shut down football and never get to start.”

On the other side of the coin, “Say we do have a season, now we have more time to practice in pads and get acclimated. So that’s a good thing.”

GMC Prep has two preseason scrimmages scheduled against Treutlen County and Montgomery County. Those dates will now be moved to Aug. 21 and Aug. 28.

No changes were made to other fall sports softball, volleyball or cross country as their seasons will proceed as normal.

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