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‘Itching to get back’: With more good news from AHSAA, summer workouts come into focus

Oxford football

Oxford Head Coach Keith Etheredge during a hot football practice at Oxford High School. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

The Alabama High School Athletic Association is full of good news this week.

Tucked in Thursday’s announcement that athletes at AHSAA-member schools can begin summer workouts June 1 was a relaxation of group-size requirements. Then came Friday’s email fixing the dilemma over an apparent change in deadline for physical exams.

With all of that resolved, the remaining challenge surrounds meeting a long list health-and-safety guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted a suspension and eventual cancelation of spring sports.

It’s a challenge coaches will gladly trade to begin doing something, anything to work toward the 2020-21 high school sports year, assuming COVID-19 doesn’t resurge and cause delays or more cancellations.

“It’s great,” said Rico White, who coached Anniston’s football team last season to its first state-semifinal berth since 2011. “I can’t imagine a year without football, though.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association included answers to frequently asked questions with Thursday’s announcement that summer workouts …

“The biggest thing is, I’m just afraid that, when we actually get going, will there be another shutdown? What if a kid catches the Corona? What’s going to be the effect? Will we have to sit out two weeks, and what about games?”

For now, coaches are making plans around the best news for Alabama high school sports since the AHSAA suspended spring sports March 13. White, Alexandria football coach Todd Ginn and Oxford’s Keith Etheredge said Friday they plan to start workouts June 1.

The June 1 start comes a week ahead of the original, widely speculated day of June 8.

“The biggest change is our schools may reopen on June 1, a week earlier than the June 8 date previously discussed,” AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese said in Thursday’s announcement. “We are elated to have a definite date for our coaches and student-athletes to return to their schools, where they can continue to experience valuable educational lessons through athletics.”

Jacksonville’s Clint Smith, anticipating June 8 as the start date, said the Golden Eagles will stick to plans to start workouts June 9. Piedmont’s Steve Smith announced in February plans for summer workouts to start June 15 and said Piedmont will stick to that plan.

As for devils in the details, a list of frequently asked questions the AHSAA included in Thursday’s announcement included a relaxation of anticipated requirements that workouts occur in groups no larger than 10, including a coach.

“Group size is unlimited, as long as physical distancing and all other current safety guidelines are maintained,” read the answer to the question about groups of 10.

Relaxation of group-size limitations will help coaches in scheduling groups.

“The groups of 10 were where we were going to struggle,” said Ginn, who coached Alexandria to playoff victories in both of his first two seasons. “Now that the groups don’t have to be 10 and you can keep them six feet apart in conditioning and all of that, we just have to clean well. Other than that, it’s going to be all right.”

Ginn and coaches of other Alexandria sports met Tuesday and raised concern about non-interchangeable groups of 10.

“It was really going to put a bind on us,” Ginn said. “We were really going to have to try to decide who we weren’t going to work out, because you’ve just got so many coaches to go around.”

Another relief came with Friday’s clarification on physical exams.

The one shock in Thursday’s announcement involved a change in the deadline for pre-participation physicals. The AHSAA announced that all athletes must have a current physical, 2020-21 consent release and concussion form on file prior to participating in summer activities.

That part of the announcement came labeled important, underlined and highlighted in yellow.

The AHSAA Medical Advisory Committee previously approved a proposal to accept all athletic pre-participation physicals through Aug. 20, the first fall contest date. That original proposal took into account that schools would be closed in April and May, when mass physicals typically occur.

Alabama schools never resumed in-school instruction for the 2019-20 school year.

The AHSAA sent coaches a Friday memo saying physicals that expired in April or May will suffice until July 27, the first fall-practice date.

With no chance to conduct mass physicals before the start of summer workouts, coaches began scrambling to get the word out to athletes to get physicals individually.

“We were in a panic last night, to be honest,” Ginn said.

New athletes must have a physical on file.

With all of that resolved, coaches and athletes see the way clear to begin doing something that feels normal, even while distancing, working with masked spotters and disinfecting equipment between groups.

“This takes a lot of pressure off of people,” said Keith Etheredge, coach of reigning 6A football champion Oxford. “These kids are trying to find places to workout. They end up going to gyms where all of these other people are.

“I just think it’s safer for them to come to school and work out. … These kids are itching to get back.”

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.