When the Jackson Prep Patriots take the field under the Friday night lights, almost everything is business as usual.
Despite slightly smaller crowd sizes, Friday night high school football games seem to be the first sign of normalcy since the pandemic began in March.
Prep varsity cheer sponsor Tracie Mallard said thus far, they have experienced a normal football season, with the cheerleaders manning the sidelines at home and away games as usual.
Since varsity cheer tryouts were held during the week preceding spring break, Mallard said they were able to carry out tryouts as normal.
“Varsity cheer took a break during the summer, but we have been back in full, socially distant swing this week,” Mallard said.
Gov. Tate Reeves has set crowd-size limitations on K-12 extracurricular activities as part of Mississippi’s ongoing efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Reeves has placed an attendance cap on all K-12 extracurricular activities, such as football and band concerts, to no more than two spectators per participant. A dedicated safety officer is also required for each extracurricular event as well to ensure social distancing measures are being followed.
“Sports and these other activities are instrumental in the lives of our young Mississippians,” Reeves said while announcing the safety measures at a press briefing last week. “They teach discipline and responsibility in a way that can’t be replicated. That said, we are living through a pandemic. One of my greatest concerns heading into this school season has been sports and those other events which cause the community to come out in crowds. Twenty-two players on a field is not going to overwhelm a local hospital. Two thousand people in a small school’s bleachers might.”
Most other schools throughout the Jackson metro are also planning for a regular football season.
At St. Andrew’s, those attending football games can expect to see the band, dancers and cheerleaders in addition to the football team.
“As long as football will be played on Friday nights, we will be a part,” said band director Dr. Dennis Cranford. “Having said that, there are some differences this year.”
The band will only perform at home games for the 2020 season and protective equipment, such as masks and bell covers, will be in place for both indoor rehearsals and outdoor performances.
“We do not do marching here at St. Andrew’s in any year, so the only pre-school event is our drumline camp, which we did in early August,” Cranford said.
The 2020 season looks a little different for the dance team, as they were unable to attend the Universal Dance Association’s (UDA) overnight camp in Starkville.
According to dance coach, Britney Wolfe, they opted instead for UDA’s home camp. Instructors came to St. Andrew’s and worked with teams one-on-one, with strict guidelines being enforced during the camp, such as social distancing, masks, sanitizing, lunches from home and more.
“Additional days and time alterations have been made to our practice schedules to flow cohesively with the school’s current hybrid schedule,” Wolfe said. “Strict guidelines - masks when not actively dancing, sanitizing and distancing - will be enforced as much as possible during these practices.There will also be designated times each team is allotted for locker room usage if/when needed.”
The dance team will be absent from away games this year.
“During home games, we will not be in our usual spots, but spaced further apart along the sidelines,” Wolfe said. “There can also be no contact with anyone in the stands. All members will have to report directly to our designated game location upon arrival and directly with families following the game’s end.”
“Things are definitely much different this year, but we will continue to make the most of it while keeping everyone’s safety first,” she added.
St. Joseph Catholic School, and all other schools within the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, will continue to monitor the guidelines put forth by MAIS or MHSAA.
“Both of these organizations have provided expectations and guidelines for sports and activities and our schools will follow those,” said Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Brown. “As far as practices go, we asked our schools to examine the MAIS, MHSAA, CDC and MSDH guidelines for extracurricular activities and created outlines for how they would implement the guidelines and requirements.”
Practices began on June 1, along with all other MHSAA and MAIS schools.
“MAIS and MHSAA have always been the experts on policies and guidelines for sporting events so we have deferred to their guidance and required our schools to meet their expectations along with our general back-to-school requirements when applicable,” Brown said.
As for Madison County Schools, it is still too early to tell what the plans will be for the 2020 season as the start of school was delayed to September.
“The details of our extracurricular plans are still coming together. Much of what we do will be dependent on guidance from the MHSAA as well,” Gene Wright said.
Attempts to gather information from other schools were unsuccessful.