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Socastee High School football players go through conditioning exercises in Horry County’s first phase of opening for the season. The phase limits groups to 10 at a time, enforced social distancing, a facemask requirement when not exercising and hand sanitizing often. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

The bleak realities of COVID-19’s effect on the sports landscape again came out Thursday, maybe unlike any other time since schools were shuttered back in March.

It started with a publicly aired Zoom meeting of the S.C. High School League’s executive committee, continued during SCHSL Commissioner Jerome Singleton’s digital news conference with media members and then carried right on over into a full day of trying to make sense of all the uncertainty.

Earlier Thursday, North Myrtle Beach athletics director Joe Quigley — also a member of the executive committee — made some waves when he pushed the board to include stronger language for upholding rules of voluntary conditioning drills. The board eventually agreed with him, enacting penalties for violators.

But that was only the beginning for what one of the most experienced and respected athletics directors in the state had to say.

“The bottom line is there are many people who are such diehard fans and they think their kids are going to miss out or not get that scholarship,” Quigley told MyHorryNews.com Thursday afternoon. “It’s not about that anymore. It’s about the safety of the child. If your child gets sick and dies from this illness, there is no scholarship.

“As much as I love sports, the priority for me is what’s best for the child for safety. That’s our job. We have to figure out what’s best for our children. As much as I love high school sports, college sports, is this what’s in the best interest of our kids?”

The perspective-check comments came amid a growingly vocal crowd of parents and fans who are pushing administrators at both the district and state levels to re-open sports. But those cries for normalcy are also ringing out amid COVID-19’s increasingly staggering numbers.

Almost daily over the last three weeks, South Carolina and Horry County flirt with various records revolving around positive tests, hospitalizations and percent positives. 

It’s why Singleton admitted that the SCHSL is still weighing all its options for fall sports. Moving start dates, shifting the sports seasons from fall or spring to the other, shortening the athletic calendar, altering the playoffs or cancelling seasons outright are all still on the table, he said. The sports body is working closely with state education leaders and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, and while decisions have been coming at a pace too slow for many, it doesn’t necessarily equate to inactivity.

“It’s constantly going on. We come in the office every day and we trade what ifs,” Singleton said. “I’m very confident that we’ll come away with something that we think is going to be in the best interest. We just need to make sure we move with deliberate speed and keeping the focus on the athletes.”

The SCHSL is going to continue that process by sending out surveys to all of its 220 or so member schools. It will include directives for how each district or school can safely proceed, but also seek clarification for just how likely it is that they can.

Part of the thought process for that is the knowledge of specified hot spots in South Carolina, such as the Myrtle Beach area, where teams and fans may not feel comfortable traveling to in the event that the fall sports season does take place.

“A big thing that I’ve always looked at and always encouraged the membership to look at is let’s try to put those what ifs prior to any faces or names being attached to them,” Singleton said. “Then we can make some objective decisions as opposed to subjective decisions. Once we can take that experience … and put two schools or communities or players or athletes to it, and a decision hasn’t been made, the likelihood of the decision being made [won’t be] on emotions.”

Focusing on facts is exactly what Horry County Schools athletics liaison Roger Dixon is attempting to do.

Dixon split up visiting the district’s nine high school football teams with longtime athletics cohort Marion Shaw this week. Dixon said the only positive test associated with athletics (an employee) was discovered before the conditioning drills opened on Monday.

“The screens have been relatively uneventful,” Dixon said. “We’ve had to have a few where we had to sit them down and let their temperature drop. But as of today, we’ve only had four to five instances where we’ve had to do that and only had to send a couple kids home. I’m not going to say we’re perfect, but we’ve been pretty strict at how many people we have on a field. I think we’ve done pretty well so far.”

Still, he couldn’t address that side of things without assessing what’s going on around them, specifically the rising number of cases.

“I’m not one of these people who think this is a hoax. It wouldn’t surprise me if we blow the lid off this thing next week with [the July 4th holiday],” he said. “We’ll make a decision there and decide what to do moving forward.”

As of right now, Dixon said the district is proceeding as scheduled with its Phase 1 plans, which include other sports joining football on July 6. Thursday’s executive committee meeting also announced possible plans for the state to move to Phase 1.5, which would allow for limited equipment to be used during these conditioning drills. Still, neither Dixon nor Singleton nor Quigley could say with much confidence what happens next.

Or when.

Thursday, then, was like many of the days before it, when the uncertainty of COVID-19 ensured answers were next to impossible to find — despite anyone’s best intentions.

“It’s our time to lead. That is truly what I believe in,” Quigley said. “The frustration with most teachers is we’re not in a position to make the rules. But every educator and every coach, we want to be led and know where to go. As an athletics director, I’m not only responsible for our school, but how we’re [going to move forward] if we do have a season.

“We’re hoping it will start. That’s what we’re hoping. But the time frame is getting shorter and shorter.”

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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