Return to Headlines

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights

By Debbie Hodges, Student Services and Athletic Director

For high school students in eastern North Carolina, Fridays mean football.  You could feel the excitement as the fields were prepared with the lines and numbers. The concession stands were stocked with all of the fan favorites and the smell of popcorn would soon be filling the air.  Students and staff would be sure to wear their school attire to be ready for the big game.  Athletes stood a little taller that day with nods in the hallways and encouragement from classmates to “play hard”.

This year has been different in so many ways.  The football stadiums are dark.  There are no cheers of “Go, Fight, Win”.

Summer conditioning was delayed and some hard decisions had to be made by students and coaches.  What about the risks of COVID-19?  There was no question that athletics is important and that the students needed to have something to feel normal again.  The issue was how to safely bring student- athletes back on campus to start preparing for the sports season.  After numerous planning meetings with athletic directors, district staff and administration, coaches, medical experts and others, a plan was developed to begin summer conditioning. 

The first step was paperwork completion.  Some of the paperwork was routine but this year there were also forms regarding liability and questionnaires about symptoms, recent travel and exposure.  Sessions began with screening questions, temperature checks, social distancing and required face coverings.  Sports teams were divided into “pods” of 10 that worked with only one coach to avoid exposure if someone had COVID-19. Athletes were required to bring their own water, not socialize with those in different pods, and report any symptoms or contact with individuals with COVID-19. Summer conditioning looked “old school style” with lots of running, drills and basic exercises.

Although they did not know what football season or actual competition would look like, student athletes and coaches were glad to be back together, six feet apart. And then the new schedule was released by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.  The first day of football practice will be February 8, 2020 and the first contest on February 26, 2020.   Summer conditioning became skill development along with some changes in the number per pod.

Skill development sessions have strict regulations.  Helmets can be worn once a school has conducted workouts for at least two weeks.   A licensed athletic trainer or first responder must be physically present if any protective equipment is worn by student-athletes.  Wearing protective equipment other than helmets is prohibiting during the skill development phase.  New regulations include the limiting of balls and equipment to within pods.  Equipment must be disinfected frequently and before use by another pod.  There can be no body-to-body contact and individuals must maintain six feet physical distancing.  Tackling dummies/donuts/sleds must be cleaned before use by another pod.

Even with all of the rules and regulations, the student-athletes and coaches have risen to the challenge because they love their school and they love the sport.  The next challenge will be figuring out how to have athletic events with spectators while keeping everyone safe. 

There will be Friday night lights again.  It will be cold and there may even be snow but the lights will be on, the smell of popcorn will be in the air and the cheer GO, FIGHT, WIN will echo across the field.