Like most everyone else in the country these days, high school athletic officials in Louisiana are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward what lies ahead concern the affects of the coronavirus.
“From an athletic standpoint, we didn’t jump to any conclusions and try and make policy that you would have to come back and change,” said Lutcher athletic director and head football coach Dwain Jenkins, who also is the president of the Louisiana High School Coaches Association. “You knew everyone was going to have to take some action at some point.
“I think the LHSAA, just athletics and schools kind of just all waited to see what the response was going to be from the higher levels of government. Once that decision was made, I’m glad the LHSAA didn’t do what the NCAA did – which is just jump and cancel everything. We don’t know where we will be in two weeks. We don’t know where we will be at the end of this closure period in the middle of April. There is still a chance we can still have all of our spring championship events and come back and make up some of those winter championships that has been postponed.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statement Friday that, among other things, closes schools for approximately a month.
“We are at an inflection point now and we are going to take bold action to minimize the further spread of this illness. That is why I am issuing this order today, ending all events of more than 250 people, closing our schools, and reducing the amount of face-to-face public interaction at state government buildings,” Edwards said in the statement.
The governor’s proclamation specified that the halting of gatherings of 250 or more applies only to gatherings in a single space at the same time where individuals will be in close proximity to each other. It does not apply to normal operations at locations like airports, medical facilities, shopping centers or malls, office buildings, factories or manufacturing facilities, or grocery or department stores.
The move to close schools by the governor pertained specifically to public schools, but most Catholic and private schools have opted to close as well, according to published reports.
At the time of the governor’s statement, the state has 33 presumptive positive cases of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, according to published reports.
In a statement released by the LHSAA shortly after the governor’s announcement, Eddie Bonine, the organization’s executive director, announced the boys’ state basketball championship game would go on as planned Friday but with no fans in attendance.
The LHSAA followed up with another memo later Friday.
“The LHSAA will adhere to the Louisiana Governor’s 30 day closure of the K-12 public schools by postponing remaining Winter and Spring athletic events to include, but not limited to Powerlifting, Bowling, and Bass Fishing State Championships. The LHSAA Executive Committee will meet April 7th and 8th at its regularly scheduled meeting to discuss the LHSAA’s direction after the April 13th mandate by the Governor of Louisiana. Scheduling and participating in practices during the mandated time period (from March 16th to April 13th) will be left to the discretion of the administration and/or LEA of the schools involved. We will continue to monitor the situation and we encourage each member school to consult with their local health department and medical professionals to help with these decisions. We realize that the situation is rapidly evolving and events around the country are influencing what discretion can or cannot be given to administrators or LEA. Please continue to review key planning considerations for events should you decide to allow regular season play this weekend and then after the April 13th mandate. If you plan to continue with regular schedule play through this weekend please adhere to the Governor’s restrictions limiting crowd capacity,” the statement read.
If, an when athletic events will be held later in the school term, is another item that also is up in the air.
“I would hope this action – taking all the schools out for basically a month – that it gives us some time to pump the brakes on making some of those long-lasting decisions. High school ends 90 percent of these kids’ careers. You have seniors who, by no fault of their own, potentially are going to lose that last opportunity to play a sport or finish high school in a normal fashion,” said Jenkins.
Like other school systems around the state, the St. James Parish system will meet on Monday to determine a further course of action.
“All teachers were put on standby to be prepared to return to work on Tuesday, if needed, if Monday the decision is made that distance learning is the route that we go in St. James Parish. That’s kind of where we are right now,” Jenkins said.
While games will not be played for the next month, sports teams could continue to practice. That decision is being left up to individual school systems.
“On Monday, we also will be meeting to make decisions on athletics. The LHSAA’s stance was to leave it up to the individual school districts if they will be able to continue to practice or meet together as a team at this point that we are out (of school),” Jenkins said.
The amount of classroom time that may or may not need to be made up is not yet determined. Most school systems already had spring break days figured into the next month. Most districts also had built-in days that are set aside as makeup days in case of a hurricane or other events.