FLORENCE, S.C. − Florence County has five school districts, and three of them (Florence One Schools, FSD3, FSD5) are not playing or practicing any sports right now because of the pandemic.
The other two school districts, FSD2 (Hannah-Pamplico High School) and FSD4 (Timmonsville High School), are indeed practicing AND playing games.
Interview requests were sent to H-P athletic director Jamie Johnson and Timmonsville A.D. Tonya Addison (also Timmonsville's principal) for a story on how sports are being able to be played there at this time. Only Johnson responded, and requested the questions be emailed to him.
Considering the unique circumstances of the story subject, his request was granted, and Johnson answered the questions. After FSD2 superintendent Neal Vincent also looked over the answers, they were emailed back to the Morning News.
Below is the question-and-answer session with Johnson:
Q: How happy are you to be playing again?
A: The coaches and athletes are thrilled to return to play again. We believe that sports are essential to the physical and mental well-being of our students. By safely returning to physical activity and athletic competition using CDC, DHEC and SCHSL guidelines, we are supporting our students’ health both physically and mentally.
Q: What instances have there been in which practices/games been halted?
A: Practices and games have been halted due to close contacts and potential exposures due to COVID-19. The district has also paused practices and games when instruction is not offered in-person.
Q: What were the requirements for practice to resume and games to resume?
A: Return to in-person instruction. If practices and games were canceled due to a close contact, DHEC and SCHSL requirements for quarantine were followed before a return to play.
Q: When did practice and games resume?
A: Basketball practice resumed on Jan. 9. Games resumed this week.
Q: How did you make this possible, to play?
A: In-person instruction resumed on January 11, after reported active COVID-19 cases for in-person students remained relatively low after the winter break. Since returning, the coaches have done an excellent job stressing that athletes must continue to follow CDC, DHEC, and SCHSL guidelines in order to play.
Q: What will it take to keep playing and practicing?
A: Reported active COVID-19 cases for in-person students at both schools must remain low with adequate staffing to continue in-person instruction and athletics. Coaches and athletes must continue to follow CDC, DHEC, and SCHSL guidelines to prevent close contact and exposures. Athletic staff and coaches continue to express how important it is to wear a mask, limit contact with others who do not live with the student, avoid crowded areas, and stay 6 feet from other players when possible.
Q: How challenging has this all been to play/keep playing?
A: It has been very challenging. In the end, when possible, we believe we should keep playing while following COVID-19 safety protocols for our students’ physical and mental well-being.
Q: What’s been the biggest challenge for you?
A: Ensuring a safe playing environment and reminding students to limit contact from others who do not live with them and avoid crowded areas. Another challenge has been how to maintain capacity at athletic contests and ensuring a fair process for purchasing tickets. The district has moved to an online ticketing model to assist with this challenge.
Q: Do off-campus gatherings by kids concern you in spreading COVID and it stopping games/practices?
A: We are constantly reminding students to wear masks both in and out of school, to limit contact from others who do not live with them, avoid crowded areas, and social distance from others when possible. If athletes want to continue to play, they must stay healthy and prevent exposure to peers and teams.
Q: What do you to do stop that, or control (off-campus gatherings by kids)?
A: We remind athletes that they have a personal responsibility to their teams to adhere to the CDC, DHEC, and SCHSL guidance to prevent exposures and the spread of COVID-19. Essentially, their decisions not to adhere to these guidelines influence their own safety, their teammates’ safety, and whether or not the team can continue to practice and participate in games.
Q: How much of this is actually in any AD’s control?
A: Ensuring a safe and consistent environment for our kids and following the CDC, DHEC, and SCHSL guidelines are in our control and we have a handle on that. We do all we can to ensure our athletes can safely compete and have a great experience. Our district still believes that athletics are an integral part of a comprehensive school experience.