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Tennessee spring sports can play on — for now

Douglas Fritz • Mar 13, 2020 at 6:54 PM

In the ever-changing world of the novel coronavirus, concrete decisions rarely have time to set.

But the TSSAA is not shutting down spring sports — at this time.

Instead, the organization that governs high school athletics in Tennessee is leaving the decision up to local school systems. On Friday, TSSAA Assistant Executive Director Matthew Gillespie said Hamilton County, Metro Nashville and Shelby County are among the areas that have placed restrictions on their teams involved in spring sports: baseball, softball, soccer, tennis and track.

Locally it is still a go for most programs, but that is subject to change. Science Hill had a baseball game scheduled at Hardin Valley Academy in Knoxville for Friday, but it was canceled. The Hilltoppers then scheduled a game at home against Clinton, but Hilltoppers athletic director Keith Turner said the Knoxville-area team found out at 2:30 p.m. it would not be allowed to make the trip because of travel restrictions.

Also, Dobyns-Bennett’s soccer program announced Friday that the annual Jon Metcalf Highland Cup tournament was canceled. It was scheduled for March 20-22 in Kingsport, but too many teams faced travel restrictions.

Gillespie said TSSAA staff doesn’t have the authority to intervene and prevent teams from playing regular-season contests.

“If it was a complete shutdown, it would have to be a directive from the Board of Control,” he said. “Aside from that, it is up to the local administrators of the school systems.”

Turner, who is vice president of the TSSAA Legislative Council, said that group and the Board of Control will meet Tuesday and Wednesday via conference call.

“There’s a chance spring sports will be discussed,” Turner said. “It’s not on the agenda, but with everything that has happened I’m sure time will be taken for it.”

Looking forward to the possibility of postseason play and the Spring Fling, Gillespie said he wanted to emphasize the understanding that a lack of playing regular-season games would not prevent postseason play from taking place.

“Nothing in the bylaws requires teams to play a district schedule,” Gillespie said. “Everything could stop today, hypothetically, and we could still have postseason play even if another regular-season game wasn’t played.”

Gillespie pointed out area districts could make their own decisions on how to seed teams for postseason play.

“They could even flip a coin or pull names out of a hat,” he said.

That may sound drastic, but the hope of getting to play a full postseason schedule is better than what basketball teams currently face. The girls were unable to finish their state tournament this week, and the boys’ tournament also was suspended. That decision was made Thursday.

There is still hope the basketball tournaments could be played, but as each day goes by the chances diminish.

“It’s something we don’t know,” Gillespie said. “We didn’t want to put a final stamp on it because we wanted to leave open the possibility of continuation. Whether the chances are good or slim, I don’t know. It could get to the point where it’s logistically impossible.”

Gillespie said the decision was difficult.

“It’s hard to even put into words,” he said. “It was disappointing for us, and we know it was disappointing for the schools and players who worked so hard to get there. It was the last thing we wanted to do. It’s an extremely unfortunate situation none of us wants to deal with.”

The TSSAA would be hit hard financially by not having gate receipts from the tournaments.

“It would certainly be a significant impact,” Gillespie said. “But we haven’t seen the numbers from the two days of the tournament yet.”