Athletes, coaches, and administrators across the state were holding their breath, awaiting a delayed decision from Governor Asa Hutchinson Friday afternoon. With schools scheduled to open, the question was now on the fall sports slate. Football and volleyball were the only sports with questions remaining and have been operating under very strict no contact rules. College sports have had varying degrees of change, including the SEC, that will only play a 10-game conference slate. Arkansas loses a trip to South Bend to play Notre Dame and other lower-tier games that had the potential to help with a first-year head coach. The high school sports will be universal statewide.
Fans of the game got the best news possible Friday with the announcement that football and volleyball may now go forward with the approved AAA schedule. This is a huge step that so far has not changed starting dates or schedules. While many expect there to be some changes to accommodate best practices, student-athletes will be allowed to compete under current guidelines.
Paris Athletic Director Casey Mainer said, "Sports is a huge part of a school and community. The governor has given us an opportunity. We are just going to take it day by day. We are going to do all we can; we are going to do our part."
The announcement moves fall sports closer to normal than they have been in some time. "About where we would have been this time last year. It is as close to normal as we have been with football since this happened. We have the same AAA regulations as before, including our times and days in pads," Mainer said.
While many are looking at football, Paris has a very hungry group of young ladies ready for volleyball to get back to normal. The news allows them to get back to a competitive practice and start working toward reclaiming the state crown. Head Coach Jordan Devine said, "It is just excitement. We have been doing this for two months and we are ready to see them (the athletes) as much as they are to play."
Devine knows the restrictions have been tough on the players, "I cannot imagine practicing where all you can do is drills." However, it all changes this week, "Our plan is to come out here tomorrow (Monday) and play. We may restructure a little. We will continue to disinfect balls and clean our facilities, but we will be going 6-on-6."
Football has been at the center of the issue, and this season Coach Tyler Clark hopes his Eagles get a chance to show just how improved they are. "I think we are going to have a big year. Our seniors are leaders, our juniors are doing well, and the sophomores are really coming along." Precautions will still be in place, and the locker room's use is still not advised, which is an adjustment, "We are still going to screen. We are going to do all we can to be as safe as we can. There will be things added that we have to do. We expect that. But we will do it if it means we can play football."
Clark stated they expect modifications as the AAA and the newly formed committee set things in place, but for now, "It is the normal start of fall camp. Monday and Tuesday in helmets, Wednesday through Friday in shoulder pads and helmets. That following Monday, we are scheduled for full pads."
For certain, players and coaches are happy and continuing to be optimistic. Summer leagues had a lot of success competing with limited positive tests in the region. In-person, schooling may be the most significant influence on the longevity of the season, but schools are already working to give students the fullest educational experience they can, including sports this fall.