Coronavirus puts high school sports on hold around the state

By LAURENCE HILLIARD,

To say that Mississippi high school athletics is in a state of flux would be an understatement. The only certainty at this point is uncertainty.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has declared a state of emergency that includes extending Spring Break at least one week for all public schools. The Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) has taken it one step further, suspending all sports and activities this week and next.

The Midsouth Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) has canceled all sports and activities for this week. The recommendation is that schools be closed this week, but each school will make the decision. MAIS is based in Pearl, but has members from four states – Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas – and receives input from health departments in all four states.

“It’s a week by week thing right now,” said Choctaw County athletic director Jim Wood. “Right now we are in kind of a wait and see situation.”

Winona athletic director Charlie Parkerson said “As long as schools are shut down, nobody is playing anything. All spring sports are shut down.” That means no games and no practices.

MHSAA posted the following on its website: “To protect the health and safety of our students and communities, the Mississippi High School Activities Association is suspending all sanctioned contests and activities due to the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Mississippi. This policy was put in place after a conference call with the MHSAA Executive Committee on Monday morning. The Executive Committee is made up of 15 school administrators from around the state.”

MHSAA executive director Don Hinton said “We urge our member schools and their communities to take every possible precaution to remain safe and healthy. MHSAA leadership is working diligently to adjust to this rapidly evolving situation and will share updates as soon as possible.”

The future of MHSAA sports for this school year is up in the air, including two championships scheduled for April. Archery is scheduled for Aril 7, 9 and 10 at the Kirk Fordice Equine Center in Jackson and powerlifting for April 18 at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.

Archery championships are conducted by the Archery In Mississippi Schools (AIMS) program under the direction of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. According to the department’s website, the championships have been postponed, but no makeup date has been scheduled.

Hinton said MHSAA is looking at each sport to determine what can be done. “If we are able to play, we will have a plan for each sport.”

Championships for golf, tennis, track, softball and baseball are scheduled for late April and May.  Baseball championships are scheduled for May 26-30 at Trustmark Park in Pearl, home field of the Southern League Mississippi Braves.

If the games have to be rescheduled, another site would be needed because those are the only dates available during the Braves’ schedule. Softball championships are scheduled for May 14-16 at Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Chris Chance, associate director of activities for MAIS, said each school will decide whether to hold school this week. Winona Christian School and Carroll Academy are closed.

MAIS planned a conference call this week with headmasters, athletic directors and administrators to determine future actions. “Probably we will look at Friday to make a decision for the coming weeks,” Chance said. “It is our desire to do everything we can to save some kind of spring sports season.”

That includes attempting to make up district games that are missed this week. “If we extend this for two weeks or heavens forbid three weeks, then there may have to be some kind of an adjustment to how we do our championships and playoffs. We’re going to be formulating alternate plans this week for a worst case scenario. But we’re hoping none of that comes to fruition.”

French Camp Academy, one of handful of private schools that are MHSAA members, is shut down for two weeks. The fact that the school has boarding students contributed to the decision to extend the closing a week.

FCA president F. Stewart Edwards posted a message to parents on the school’s website last week stating “In light of French Camp Academy’s unique role as a boarding school coupled with the blessing of Spring Break occurring this week, it has been decided to extend Spring Break for another two weeks (March 16-27). To bring students back together from many locations across the country to live in close proximity seems like an unnecessary risk.

“For the time being, French Camp Academy has also suspended all extracurricular activities such as sports and school-sponsored trips. Diligent preventative measures will continue to be executed in anticipation of the students’ return. The dates that dormitory students return to the French Camp campus and the date classes resume have not yet been definitely set.”

MHSAA has received input from its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee comprised of physicians, school administrators, coaches and representatives of MHSAA and MAIS. Committee chairman Dr. Brent Smith issued a statement saying “We are in a unique and uncertain time nationally with the current outbreak of Coronavirus and the response it has triggered at every level from government to spectator sports in our country and nationally.”

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