FILE – McMinn lifts

McMinn County football players perform kettlebell exercises during summer workouts in May. Workouts will stop for two weeks beginning Monday, June 22, as the TSSAA Legislative Council voted to keep the dead period in place for this summer despite losing spring activities to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The dead period will proceed as scheduled for Tennessee high school athletics.

The opinions on whether or not to suspend it this summer varied wildly among coaches and administrators, as reflected by the deadlocked 6-6 vote the TSSAA Legislative Council took in its special called meeting Thursday. The tied vote meant the proposal to do away with the dead period failed, as a majority vote was required to make a change.

From Monday, June 22, through Sunday, July 5, all facilities at TSSAA-member schools are closed, no practices or weight training and conditioning sessions may be conducted, and coaches may not have any contact with student-athletes.

The meeting had been called in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the last two months of the school year and the spring sports season along with it. While the TSSAA announced in late April that the dead period would remain in place, several member schools, according to the agenda, wanted to discuss whether or not to waive the dead period for this year only.

Furthermore, Kentucky’s high school sports governing body, the KHSAA, had eliminated its dead period for this year with a vote in late May, making it a topic of discussion in its neighboring state.

However, TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress still recommended that the council vote to keep the dead period in place, citing among several reasons the vacations many athletes and coaches have already scheduled for those two weeks.

“We don’t ever want to put sports before families, and many families make plans for the dead period every year,” Childress said. “This is not the first year we’ve had the dead period, and as eager as coaches are to get back to their routine, the council ultimately felt that there wasn’t a strong enough case for doing away with it this year.”

Council representatives Rob Speas, whose District 2 includes McMinn County and McMinn Central, and Autumn O’Bryan, whose District 3 includes Meigs County, both voted in favor of eliminating the dead period for this summer.

Several council members reported that the response from their districts’ member schools was split roughly even between those who wanted to keep the dead period and those who wanted to suspend it.

With weight training and conditioning happening in the months leading directly up to the start of its season, football would have been the sport most directly impacted by any changes to the dead period. And all three area football coaches also differed on the council’s decision to keep the dead period in place.

McMinn coach Bo Cagle was in favor of suspending the dead period for this year.

“The summer workouts are all voluntary anyway, and we’ve already taken a couple of months off,” Cagle said. “So for them to want us to be ready for the heat of the summer and to be out there and pads and be heat acclimated and our muscles to be ready, and to take those many months off because of the situation. And then make us take two more weeks off right in the middle of summer right as they start to get their legs back, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

“They give you a set of standards to go by, but then take away all your resources that you get to use to get to those standards. Normally I like the dead period because you need a break, but this year, it doesn’t seem very proactive in what we’re doing.”

Cagle acknowledged that some athletes and coaches have likely planned their vacations already for the two weeks of the dead period, but he didn’t consider mandating a dead period in wake of the coronavirus appropriate, especially for athletes who didn’t have vacations planned and may have wanted to be at school working out.

“You know they’re going to get some days and they’re going to go on vacations and you’re not going to have them all the time, and you go with that,” Cagle said. “But to make them take two weeks off, especially in this situation, because it’s just such a special situation, they’ve had a huge amount of time away from the weight room, conditioning and school. And obviously we would have coaches that would’ve had to miss, and we would’ve had to adjust to what we’ve got, but to make everybody miss when they didn’t necessarily want to or didn’t have anything planned just doesn’t seem very accurate.”

Meigs coach Jason Fitzgerald, on the other hand, was happy to see the dead period remain in place, noting every team is in the same situation.

“We lost that time in the spring and everybody lost that time in the spring,” Fitzgerald said. “But two weeks in the summer is not going to make up for lost time. I think what some people are trying to do is make up for their lost time. And what you have to realize, you lost some time in the weight room in the spring, but everybody lost that time. So you’re on an equal playing field.”

“What they’re trying to do is make up that time, but that time’s gone. What you do in the weight room two weeks in July is not going to make up for what you missed in March, April and May, it’s just not.”

Fitzgerald also said Meigs would’ve still elected to have a dead period of its own even if the council had decided to suspend it.

“We’re not going to do anything just because somebody else is doing it, we’re going to do it because it’s what we believe in,” Fitzgerald said. “And if you bring the kids back June 1 like we did and like most people did, and you don’t give them a break through the first weekend of December because everybody wants to go the state championship game, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

“We feel like we can get what we need done in June. We feel like we’ve got plenty of time to get what we need to get done in July and August before the season.”

Central coach Derrick Davis was mostly neutral on the topic.

“I try not to get to get caught up in it and to be disappointed or whatever, but I can see both sides,” Davis said. “As a coach, you want to try to do as much as you can, but it’s not going to affect us that much, I don’t think.”

Davis said he would’ve continued training sessions through the two weeks if the TSSAA council had voted differently, but he also understood some athletes and coaches already had plans.

“I know we had some coaches and players who were going to be gone from talking to some of them,” Davis said. “If they had voted it in, it would’ve been an ‘if you’re in town, try to be there’ type deal. But our kids have had nine days working out, and hopefully we can stress to them to do some things on their own over the two-week dead period.”

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