There is a plan in place by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association to get all fall high school sports into motion.
That doesn’t mean it’ll look like a typical season. In addition to everything besides golf teams starting in September, there are other areas of practice and competition that will likely be affected by COVID-19.
The News-Enterprise spoke with various people connected to area athletics to get opinions on Tuesday’s decision and the impact on various fall sports.
FOOTBALL. Fort Knox coach Wes Arnold is happy to have a better sense of what the fall will look like. He still recognizes there are additional hurtles that will have to be cleared.
“I think it’s good that we finally have a plan in place. That gives us something to strive for. It gives us some hope,” Arnold said. “Unfortunately, I think there’s a lot of various factors. I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.”
The Eagles face the challenge of not only having to wait for clearance from the KHSAA, but also the Department of Defense as a team on a military base.
“Just because the KHSAA says it’s good, our school still has to fall in line with the Department of Defense guidelines,” Arnold said. “If people get sick, we could affect the army’s readiness, so it’s a unique challenge.”
For now, practice will be the same as it’s been since June 29, with players divided into pods of 10.
On Aug. 24, all fall teams can go from six hours of practice to 7½ hours of practice. After this first week, full practice schedules can begin on Aug. 31.
For football, helmet-only practices will begin Aug. 24. That means teams will only have so much time before the season kicks off on Sept. 11.
While it’s better than nothing, it’s a tall order for Arnold, who has many new players and others who’ve never played before. The Eagles are also looking to install a new offense.
“Basically we’re gonna have 13 practices before we play a game. The 14th day is Thursday before a game. It’s too late to do anything then,” Arnold said. “With the restrictions we have now, we can’t do a whole lot of football stuff, so basically we’re gonna have 13 practices to put in offense, defense and special teams. That’s a pretty tight window there.”
VOLLEYBALL. Central Hardin coach Bill Rineker returns plenty of talent to the Lady Bruins. Last year’s team that made it to the Region final in a loss to Elizabethtown had no seniors, giving Central Hardin the edge in experience.
Tuesday’s decision was good news for him and his team, but he’s not without his concerns for what preparation will look like.
“For volleyball, I’m excited to hear that we’re gonna have a season because, I have to be honest, I worried about it. But I’m also a little apprehensive for a couple of reasons,” Rineker said. “One, it worries me that they’re basically giving us only one partial week and one full week to get a tryout done and practice before our first matches. It just seems like such a small amount of time to get all of that done.”
High-touch sports like volleyball have been limited to more individual skill work and conditioning since June 29.
Official tryouts can begin on Aug. 24 when official practice begins, but Rineker said it would be difficult to have the full-length tryout he’s used to in order to better evaluate players.
“Most of the time you’re looking at spending a couple days for your tryouts and so then that basically cuts out a couple days of practice,” Rineker said. “So now you’re left with about a week-and-a-half maybe and that’s just a really short period of time to get a team ready to play.”
The KHSAA also approved limitations on the number of competitions in team sports to eight teams for non-National Federation of State High School Association sanctioned events. This would impact volleyball, soccer and field hockey.
The Lady Bruins typically have three tournaments on their schedule. Rineker added these tournaments comprise 15 of their 35 regular-season matches.
Rinker also said some of these tournaments can have over 30 teams, which means dropping the number to eight puts teams not chosen in a tough spot.
“That’s gonna affect a lot of people,” Rineker said. “Say the Jefferson County Invitational, they decide that we’re not one of the eight they invite, I’m now trying to find matches to make up for that.”
BOYS’ SOCCER. Elizabethtown coach Corey Yates is cautiously optimistic for the season after Tuesday’s ruling. While it’s a step in the right direction to ensuring games happen, he added that it’s difficult to know what could happen between Tuesday and the start of regular-season competition on Sept. 7.
“Naturally I’m excited, but that’s not without hesitation, because I think we can make any decision we want right now and it doesn’t mean that it’s gonna happen,” Yates said. “So I think we have to keep in mind it is all dependent on the number of cases and if it allows us to proceed with full practice and games.”
Practices have mostly consisted of basic passing drills and similar exercises since June 29. Despite the small time frame between full practices and regular-season games, Yates isn’t too worried about the defending 5th Region-champion Panthers being ready to go.
“We can play tomorrow and be fine,” Yates said. “The limitations haven’t disturbed our competitiveness at practice.”
As part of the concern over the probability of some games being affected by shutdown of play, the KHSAA ruled Tuesday that districts that seed by having teams play each other twice would seed for the postseason using just the first game played between two teams.
While different than how it is normally done, Yates welcomed this change.
“It needs to happen,” Yates said. “It needs to go back to one-game district play because it allows a team like mine or another district team to play other non-district games and either bulk up their schedule and make it more competitive to their liking, so I like that. It definitely gives the ability to diversify your schedule.”
Regarding the limited size of soccer tournaments, Yates hoped there would be a solution.
“There are some areas of concern as far as how many teams can participate in these tournaments,” Yates said. “But I do think there is a way, in some cases, to sill proceed with the number of teams and keep the play at a distance because of different fields you would play on in the same location.”
GIRLS’ SOCCER. John Hardin coach Erik Krivitsky was glad his teams have games to look forward to. He was also glad he could start to expand on his practices in August after the limitations in place since the end of June.
“I think it’s definitely always a positive to hear that we’re moving forward. I think it was getting challenging with conditioning especially with the kids not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” Krivitsky said. “I think this will help with a little bit of motivation. It’s timed up pretty well with the start of school, so it gets us all back into a really good routine.”
While conditioning has been limited, Krivitsky explained the Lady Bulldogs have taken it seriously and been getting after it as much as they can. With a limited amount of time between the start of full practice and the start of the regular season, Krivitsky believed team readiness would be a school-by-school basis.
While he wishes there was more time allocated to full practice, Krivitsky was still of the mindset that they’ve been making the best with what they’ve been allowed to do.
“I care more about getting the touches and getting more situational practices in,” Krivitsky said. “But as far as fitness goes, that’s what KHSAA’s purpose was from the get-go, to at least make sure they get phased in from the lack of spring.”
As a team from a smaller school, John Hardin won’t be impacted by the decision to limit the number of uniformed players on a game day to 24 for soccer. He added he expects to have 19 varsity players this year.
Regarding district seeding, Krivitsky was not yet sure where he stood yet regarding the plan for this season.
“On one side, it frees up your schedule from having to play everybody twice, so now you’re in a situation where maybe you can play a little bit higher-level competition,” Krivitsky said. “Alternatively, you can be in a situation as well where we had been doing the second matters for seeding for so long and the way it works is it alternates. You get home-field advantage every other year, so if I’m playing E’town, Central or North and it flip-flops, I get that second-game advantage going into it for any kind of tiebreaker, well now that’s kind of null and void.”
CROSS COUNTRY. For some schools, a cross country team may consist of 10 or so runners. Central Hardin coach Tim Pennington has 30 on the roster this year.
While this may complicate how many runners he can use at a meet this fall, he’s glad there’s a set plan in motion for the sport.
“It’s kind of nice to have some clarity on where we’re going,” Pennington said. “I’m setting forth my plan to host our first meet on September the 12th, so luckily the competition date falls before then so I can host my meet.”
Setting up a meet where the size won’t be an issue regarding guidelines, but at the same time won’t impact the overall quality of competition is the next challenge.
Regardless of the number of teams participating, there will still be a limit of 10 uniformed runners per team on the day of each meet. This presents a challenge for a larger team like Central Hardin.
“Now I’m gonna have to pick and choose meets where I’m gonna have to look at certain ones that I maybe send A squad to, B squad to, or C squad to to fill in the void,” Pennington said. “Or we end up doing some meets ourselves where I have small meets where my B squad gets to race against somebody else’s B squad.”
With the current cap on practice at six hours per week, Pennington is looking forward to getting more done during his practices in late August.
“That extra hour-and-a-half is gonna be nice because it gives us extra time to do some additional training,” Pennington said. “We’ve had to condense some things that we do to make sure we’re rolling on a faster pace to get our workouts done.”
ATHLETIC DIRECTORS. David Dawson of LaRue County High School had been proceeding with a sense of cautious optimism since the last KHSAA meeting on July 10. As of Tuesday, that cautious optimism was rewarded with a plan for the fall sports seasons.
“I’m excited and relieved that we have a plan in action,” Dawson said. “We now have a date to look forward to in Aug. 24 where our fall teams can get back together and attempt to have a season.”
Dawson met with four of LaRue County’s programs Tuesday and plans to continue to meet with more over the next few days. These conversations have gone over areas such scheduling and the changes that could continue to emerge.
“I told them to be prepared for additional changes to the schedule. I like the decision where the KHSAA made every attempt to try to get 70 to 75 percent of the season, so they set a limit of games for each program to strive for,” Dawson said. “I like the outline that they provided. It was simple and easy to understand. We’ve got a date to shoot for and hopefully people can continue to comply with the governor’s request and wear a mask and try to make every attempt to get this thing started.”