Sumter School District football head coaches hoping to get start date soon


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The South Carolina High School League said on the first of June that school districts or high schools could decide when Phase 1 workouts could begin for student-athletes after the spring sports seasons were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, many schools and districts have allowed their programs to begin workouts, and many of them have shut down those workouts in the last few days because of the massive spike in positive tests for coronavirus.

Sumter School District has yet to make any kind of determination on when the student-athletes at Sumter, Crestwood and Lakewood high schools can begin, however. The football head coaches at the respective schools are hoping a date will come soon - whenever it might be - so they can begin preparations.

"We've got to get a date - it's got to be a safe date, I understand that - either from the high school league (for a season start) or from our central office (for workouts) about when we think we're going to start so we can plan it," said Sumter head coach Mark Barnes. "And if we need to back it up, we can do that."

"I don't know how many plans I've made," said Lakewood head coach Larry Cornelius while waiting for a restart date. I did one for spring practice, then I thought maybe we'd get half a spring practice. I'm very detail-oriented and everything is tailored around when we start. Just not having that date is driving me insane."

Crestwood head coach Roosevelt Nelson understands the hesitation in making the decision.

"We're just waiting around to see what happens," Nelson said. "It's not the best of times with the amount (of positive cases} getting up higher and higher. That definitely doesn't help at all.

"We want to get it where we can work safely to get out on the field with the kids. We want to do it with a safe work environment."

Each of the coaches understand the school district is looking at making some decisions soon.

The coaching staffs at the schools have been meeting and planning via Zoom conferences, and they obviously want to do more. The staffs are concerned about their players.

"I feel sorry for the players," Barnes said. "They're ready to go. It's been a long time since we've been able to see them. We did get to see them a little bit at physicals the other night (last week, as did Lakewood and Crestwood. Everybody's dying to go, but I understand we've got to do what's smart, take the right steps.

Once we get a date, I think everybody will feel better. If we have to move the date back, we have to move the date back. It's just been frustrating not having a plan."

As much as he would like to begin workouts, Cornelius just wants some one-on-one time with his players.

"First and foremost, I just want to see our guys," said Cornelius, who has around 80 players in the entire program. "It's frustrating to just be able to talk on phone, texting, tweeting, Facebook messaging. There is more of a relationship between player and coach than people realize. It was good to see the guys (at the physicals, which took place at all three schools). I enjoyed it.

"We're not worrying about learning plays or playbooks. That's down the list. We need to see the kids and they need to see us. I've got them texting me calling me, 'When are we gonna start, when are we gonna start?' "

Nelson, who has around 90 players in his program, said his players are constantly reaching out to him. "They blow my phone up and reach out to me daily, wanting to get out there," Nelson said. "But they are 14-to-18 year-olds."

Nelson said it has been a mixed bag with the parents. He said he actually had calls from four parents on Tuesday, two of whom said their children wouldn't be coming out anytime soon, while two others were wanting to know when practice would be starting.

"I thought that was quite funny," Nelson said, speaking of the irony.

Sumter has had a couple of players test positive as well as one coach, according to Barnes, who has 150 players in his program. Crestwood and Lakewood have not had any reported cases.

While coronavirus is the overwhelming health concern right now, Cornelius is worried about another issue that is a year-in, year-out issue for outdoor student-athletes in the summer in South Carolina

"I'm worried about them having enough time to get acclimated to the heat," Cornelius said. "They tell you they've been doing stuff at home, but you don't know. Hopefully we get a couple of weeks to get with them and work on that, but even that's a pretty tall task to ask anybody."

Barnes is hoping that high school football does take place this season. He believes it will take place, even though he's not sure it will start on time.

"We know it's not the most important thing in the world," he said. "The health of our players, the health of our coaches is. We certainly hope we get an opportunity pretty soon to get out there and get in shape for our season."

Cornelius thinks not having a football season would be a bad thing.

" I think that would be a travesty for the state, a travesty for our community," he said. "Athletics is a means for academics. A lot of kids don't worry about academics, but we use athletics to push them in academics. That's not a good thing to have happen.

"I think we need to put trust in high school coaches. We're going to make sure our kids are safe, but right now we don't have the ability to do that. We want to get our hands on these guys and do it right."