Fulton County Schools is postponing all fall high school sports until mid-September due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
The district’s athletic director, Steven Craft, announced the decision Aug. 13 following a meeting with nearly every metro Atlanta school district superintendent, Fulton district spokesman Brian Noyes said.
That move comes after the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) in July announced it would be delaying the varsity football season by two weeks, meaning teams would be kicking off their seasons as early as Sept. 4 instead of the originally scheduled Aug. 28 date. Craft is a member of the GHSA’s board of trustees and state executive committee.
In a statement, Craft addressed the Fulton district’s decision, which read in part, “Softball, volleyball, cross country, football, cheerleading and marching band will resume competitions the week of 9/14. The district will continue to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 moving forward and make a determination for the remainder of the season by Sept. 14.
“The district will continue to place the safety of the students and staff first while remaining committed to offer a fall season for our student athletes. FCS will allow each all team and the marching band to continue to practice and condition during this time.”
Noyes said as of Aug. 17, 22 athletes and six coaches district-wide in all sports have reported positive COVID-19 results.
In an Aug. 17 interview, Craft said the decision was made after the district analyzed its own data plus information from the Georgia Department of Public Health, which provides daily reports on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in all 159 counties on its website.
“The delay helps us overall as far as moving forward and having to not cancel the season (for all fall sports). It lines up with our reopening matrix to bring our kids back with face-to-face instruction,” Craft said, referring to the district possibly returning to in-person classes starting Sept. 8. “We have had some positive(-tested) athletes and positive(-tested) coaches and athletes who have been screened out (for the virus) through our protocols. We felt the safest response was to delay the start of the competitions.”
According to the GHSA’s website, the state’s high school softball, cross country and volleyball teams were allowed to play games or matches starting Aug. 6, 10 and 10, respectively.
Fulton’s teams had games or matches scheduled for August and early September, and those contests will be cancelled or postponed (depending on if they can be rescheduled) but not forfeited, Craft said.
“When you look and softball and volleyball, they have a larger number of games,” he said. “When those seasons resume, the region (contests) will take the top priority, but the schools will work around the region schedule so they can add those (postponed ones) in.”
Regarding the district’s decision, he said the reaction from coaches in all sports was mixed.
“They understand the reasons for why we’re doing this and the safety measures we’re taking, but they’re also disappointed for their student-athletes,” Craft said. “The coaches are competitive, like their student-athletes. They want them to compete and play.
“I’d be lying if I said some coaches weren’t disappointed, but as a whole, our coaches have understood (the situation). And we’ve done a really good job of communicating with them and sharing with them that this could have been a possibility. We’ve had dialogue with them throughout his process.”
After Craft posted the statement on Twitter, some coaches reacted with tweets of their own.
“Happy that our guys will be able to play!” Centennial football coach Sean O’Sullivan said. “Control the controlables! Our guys have been relentless through all of this!”
Vinny Sylvestri, a Milton assistant coach, added, “We still get to be with our guys at practice. We still get to play meaningful games this season.”
Craft said the district is doing what it can to salvage the fall season for all sports.
“I think it’s important to share we are committed to offering a fall season for our student-athletes,” he said. “We’re going to do what we can to give our student athletes as great an experience and as full a season as possible.”