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T&D Region athletic programs preparing for fall sports, when allowed to do so
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T&D Region athletic programs preparing for fall sports, when allowed to do so

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O-W tackle versus LR

Orangeburg-Wilkinson junior defensive back Michael Gilyard (30) brings down Lower Richland junior wide receiver Dustin McCombs (88), as O-W junior linebacker John Paul White (9) moves in on the play during a region game in Hopkins on Friday, Nov. 19, 2019. Rising-senior fall sport athletes have no guarantee their season will be played in 2020, due to coronavirus restrictions.

T&D Region athletic teams have either been working out based on specific guidelines in the event that fall sports take place in 2020 or awaiting the announcement that they can get back to off-season workouts.

Such decisions have been viewed through the prism of health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Given the choice to train with enforced measures to avoid virus spread, most South Carolina Independent School Association programs, including Orangeburg Prep and Calhoun Academy, have had student-athletes training on campus in phases since June 1.

Orangeburg Prep got 18 workouts in before breaking for the July 4 Independence Day holiday and while extended cleaning has been taking place inside school buildings to prepare for the coming school semester.

On July 14, the Indians plan to return to workouts for a couple weeks before taking a break prior to the scheduled July 30 start to preseason practices.

"We got a good solid 4-1/2 weeks in and are really pleased with where we are as a team," OPS head football coach Andy Palmer said. "All I can do is get the kids prepared to be prepared. They are excited to get back to it, with the spring having been called off and everything shut down.

"My coaches have been great with our workouts, and my wife has been there to check temperatures. We are doing all we can do to stay safe and healthy. We want the best for everybody, and if we get a chance to play football, we want to be ready to go when the time comes. You want the seniors to have as normal of a year as can be, but they know there's a possibility that anything can happen. At this point, we're on schedule. Anything will be something, even if it's just a schedule of playing region games."

Meanwhile, some programs have been extremely limited in summer workouts. Orangeburg County School District member high schools (Bethune-Bowman, Branchville, Edisto, Hunter-Kinard-Tyler, Lake Marion, North and Orangeburg-Wilkinson) were informed at the end of just a single week of social-distanced workouts in late June that they had to cease all athletic activities until further notice.

The continued rise of COVID-19 case numbers across the state and region have kept many SCHSL student-athletes away from campus facilities, left to organize workouts on their own for 2020 fall sports seasons that may or may not take place. The decision to work out or not has been left up to local school districts by SCHSL officials.

"We started workouts on June 22, then we shut back down, after a good week with a good number of kids, lifting weights and doing some conditioning work," Orangeburg-Wilkinson head football coach Kevin "Butch" Crosby said. "We're not sure when we are going to start back up, just waiting on our district to give us a go ahead to get back to it.

"Not sure what the high school league is going to do, so we will just sit back waiting to see what happens, while making sure our kids are safe. It's frustrating because we really don't have a real true start date, don't know if you are going to play or aren't going to play."

And it could be a situation of play high school football in the spring after lower risk sports with less contact play this fall, or play all high school sports in the spring, based on what some other states are considering and what the South Carolina High School Football Coaches Association released as viable options this week.

"I feel like we aren't going to have anything in the fall, just how I feel, looking at Florida and Georgia and what other states are doing," Crosby said. "You feel bad for seniors who need this season to perform and get a chance to play at the next level; but it was the same thing for sports back in the spring, when they had to stop.

"It's just one of those things that I haven't seen in my lifetime."

And football isn't the only sport being impacted. Off-season workouts for other fall sports, including volleyball, are feeling the stoppage. Branchville's volleyball team is the defending Class A state champion, having won the first state title for the Orangeburg County School District. However, the Yellow Jackets and other T&D Region programs have not been able to do regular preparations as a team, due to the district's proactive shutdown of athletic activities.

New mandates or guidelines could be put forth soon by the SCHSL, since a survey was sent to all league member schools this past week in an effort to gain opinions on the upcoming 2020-21 athletic school year.

“We’re trying to get some kind of planning for the upcoming school year and we’re just trying to get a pulse on what the member schools are going through,” SCHSL Commissioner Jerome Singleton said. “That way we can come up with some type of proposal to present to the executive committee that they might want to consider when we look at starting back.”

That day is still a little while off, Singleton added, and a lot can change between now and the scheduled first day of fall sports practice on July 31.

“"We can’t predict the future," Singleton said. "We do recognize that as we get closer to that day (July 31), if starting (the season on time) doesn’t seem feasible, we’ve got to do some sort of preplanning.”

"My coaches have been great with our workouts, and my wife has been there to check temperatures. We are doing all we can do to stay safe and healthy. We want the best for everybody, and if we get a chance to play football, we want to be ready to go when the time comes."

Andy Palmer of OPS

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