Hannah Watkins was literally jumping for joy over the news Friday afternoon.


The Greenwood senior volleyball standout was one of many high school athletes across the state of Arkansas who tuned in to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's daily coronavirus press conference on Friday, as he made the announcement they so longed to hear.


It was, in essence, that the fall contact sports, mainly football and volleyball, are still a go, with practices beginning this Monday.


"Words cannot describe the emotions going on in my household, on my team and in my town," Watkins said. "I watched the Governor’s press conference at my daily workouts with Paige Curry (a junior teammate) and Myia McCoy (a freshman teammate). Every person in the gym was jumping for joy, literally.


"Almost everyone either sent a message explaining their happiness or liking a message relating to themselves on our team group message."


At the governor's press conference in Little Rock, he stressed that sports plays a vital role in the regular activity of students, which is why Gov. Hutchinson decided to give the green light to play football and volleyball this fall as scheduled.


"As I have said on numerous occasions, we need school this fall and part of school are the sports and other curricular activities that go with school," Gov. Hutchinson said.


Gov. Hutchinson added that the Arkansas Activities Association presented a schedule for football to conduct no-contact team drills wearing helmets starting Monday and going through next Friday, Aug. 7.


"We want our student athletes in football to proceed with their no-contact team drills with helmets throughout next week and we want that to proceed," Gov. Hutchinson said.


He added that the AAA will submit a plan to the state's Department of Health to have football and volleyball, as well as cheerleading, this fall.


"That will allow the Department of Health to review and develop the guidelines for mitigating the virus risk associated with contact sports," Gov. Hutchinson said.


The governor is also establishing a high school advisory group to make recommendations for best practices to protect student athletes and school personnel, as well as ensuring a regular sports season this fall can still take place.


Gov. Hutchinson was joined at Friday's press briefing by Lance Taylor, the executive director of the Arkansas Activities Association, who said both football and volleyball teams can conduct practices starting on Monday.


In the case of football, Taylor noted that many neighboring states, including Oklahoma and Texas, are still planning to proceed with a season.


The 5A and 6A schools in Texas, with many based in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio metropolitan areas, will have to wait several weeks to start while the smaller schools, 1A through 4A, will go on as regularly scheduled.


"All the states around us; Texas, their 1A through 4A is going to start on time; Oklahoma's starting on time, Missouri's starting on time, Tennessee's starting on time," Taylor said. "So all of our schools early, especially if you're on the border, have to go across to pick up games, and so it would help it make it smooth for us if we are able to start on time."


That means, for the time being, that the non-conference football games this season are still on, including the Southside at Northside game on Zero Week, Thursday, Aug. 27.


"It's really exciting that we are being allowed to move forward," Fort Smith Public Schools athletics director Michael Beaumont said. "Of course, being allowed to move forward, you're excited about taking baby steps that beats the alternative, and the alternative was going to be no steps or the cancellation of the season or moving further down the calendar, so this is a great step in the direction that we all want to go.


"I think the governor's very wise in taking baby steps with this, being mindful of the safety of our kids and our staff, but we're moving forward. Even though it's inches, I'll take it."


Dr. Dustin Smith, Greenwood athletics director, remarked that he is glad all of his fall sports squads will get to have a chance to play this fall.


"That's good news for our kids and our coaches obviously," Smith said. "It gives them some direction and some concrete hope. ... It gives them a chance to move back towards what we would call, quote-unquote, normal."


Other athletes were equally overjoyed to hear the governor's announcement Friday.


"Of course, I was watching and got excited when I heard the words come out of his mouth," Van Buren senior quarterback Gary Phillips said. "It just feels good to know that all the work we've been putting in throughout the summer isn't going to go to waste.


"Now with this information, it can help push the team to keep going hard because now we know that we are still working for something that we know now not to take for granted and that's to be able to represent Van Buren through football."


Earlier this summer, the AAA had already given the go ahead for non-contact sports in the fall such as tennis, golf and cross country to proceed as planned.


Many senior athletes had been concerned that they may not get to play their final year of high school sports. Watkins was one such athlete.


In fact, several months ago, she personally wrote a letter to Gov. Hutchinson to urge him to have high school teams play on as planned.


With Gov. Hutchinson announcing at his press briefing Thursday that he would make the decision about fall contact sports the following day, needless to say there might have been plenty of anxious moments and perhaps even a lack of sleep from Watkins and her fellow athletes.


"(Thursday) night, my thoughts were being filled with the worst," Watkins said. "What if he cancels it completely? What if I never play for Coach (Jennifer) Golden or Greenwood again? Now, every negative thought has been relieved and emptied.


"I’m so ready. The girls are in shape, we’ve been working so hard for the past two months for this announcement, and we’re hungry. We’ve wanted to scrimmage and start playing fully again."


But at Friday's briefing, both Gov. Hutchinson and Taylor still stressed the need for athletes to continue to wear masks.


In fact, Taylor was demonstrative as he held his mask in addressing players and coaches across Arkansas.


"This is what's going to let us play this year," Taylor said. "This is going to determine conference championships, regional championships and state championships. We've got to help them and we've been challenged, so we have to help get our numbers down."


Gov. Hutchinson had a similar message for football players who will be reporting to practice come Monday.


"My message for the football players for Monday is to grab your helmet and be ready for practice," he said. "Then after practice, I want you to grab your mask so that you can protect others that you might be around.


"And this is very important as we enter into this season, that the risk is not just on the practice field but the risk is also as we go about the community, and our coaches, our trainers need to emphasize this to the players, they need to understand it and they need to set the example for their peers about wearing masks."