In mid-March the decision many players and coaches feared was handed down. All athletics in the county were put on hold.

In a month’s time, a decision was made that would affect the entire state, as the TSSAA made the decision it hoped it wouldn’t have to by cancelling the remainder of the high school spring sports season.

That decision not only affected high school athletics throughout Tennessee, but youth athletics as a whole.

In the end, most recreation leagues throughout the state made the similar call, as local county boards got on board to do what they felt was best to battle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as it was in its early stages in the U.S.

Fast-forward to January of 2021. That same battle still rages on. However, we currently have sports. However, the key word in that sentence is “currently.”

The last two months have not been easy on local school boards, as they continue to navigate through what’s arguably been their most challenging hour serving their communities and making decisions to try and not only keep kids in the classroom, but athletes on the playing field.

The TSSAA has had to make decisions of its own to help keep seasons going, leaving local officials to work hand-in-hand with their regulations to ensure winter sports don’t meet the same fate as spring sports did nine months ago.

Many of the decisions made have been centered around attendance.

Basketball season is arguably one of the biggest draws for an athletics function in Cocke County, so naturally some of these decisions have been met with dread and disdain.

After Gov. Bill Lee signed into effect Executive Order 70, the TSSAA was forced to implement harsher regulations on attendance for as long as the order is in place.

As a result, attendance throughout the state has been limited to only allow parents/guardians of those involved in each given event, and their immediate household members.

Outside of other essential personnel — which includes coaches and players of participating teams, first responders, school, game and facility administrators, officials and media — that’s it. And it’s a guideline schools throughout the state must enforce.

In Cocke County, basketball is a passion for most of the community. You see it all the way down in the recreation leagues, and it’s certainly prevalent at the elementary level.

Fortunately this isn’t the cancellation of the season. It will still go on. But the local schools are going to need everyone’s help and cooperation to see it the rest of the way through.

Dr. Shannon Grooms may have coined it best a week ago once the resumption of the Cocke County Elementary Basketball Association’s season was announced.

“We’re asking for cooperation and understanding,” Grooms said. “Our main goal is for students to get to play and finish their seasons. We’re going to do our best for them in making sure we see them through a full season, but in order to do that we have to have full cooperation from the community.”

The county’s elementary basketball association went on hold in mid-November, and is just now set to resume next week. It, too, will follow the same guidelines set forth by the TSSAA in accordance with the governor’s executive order.

When spring sports were lost for good in April, the message from most everyone across the state was to let the kids play. To do whatever it takes, but make sure they could play.

It didn’t happen then, unfortunately. But the chance to ensure athletics aren’t interrupted a second time around is here, and it’s up to those same people to make sure the kids get to see a season through.

The last thing these schools want to do is turn their own community away. But right now, all of the focus is where it should be, and that’s making every effort to allow the kids to not only have their seasons, but finish them.

“Our number one priority should be to ensure that our student-athletes get to play,” Cosby Director of Athletics Will Lewis said. “That should be everyone’s top priority. And I understand everyone’s frustrations. Folks want to come watch the games, and at Cosby we have the best, most loyal fans that have attended games for years.

“I don’t want to tell folks they can’t come. It means a lot to some of our fans. But this is a sacrifice I hope some are willing to make for the benefit of our kids.”

Winter sports were predicted to be a more difficult challenge than the other seasons for a variety of reasons if the pandemic was still an issue once they began.

Making it over the halfway point in the high school season has been a commendable effort by both Cocke County and Cosby high schools, but neither institution is satisfied with just making it halfway.

Like the rest of us, they want to see the kids through the remainder of the year. Our cooperation and understanding is the least we can give them to help make it happen.

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