Flag on the play

An official’s flag on the ground halts a football game between Social Circle and Union County on Sept. 14, 2019. Spring sports were brought to a screeching halt Thursday when school was suspended for two weeks due to growing fears over the rapid spread of the corona virus.

The Georgia High School Association officially announced Thursday that it will not suspend spring high school athletics, sans the state literary meet, as concerns over the coronavirus grow. However, many local schools will suspend sporting events due to their respective districts canceling classes.

Walton County cchools and Social Circle city cchools have made separate announcements that school would be canceled for at least two weeks. That suspension goes into effect Monday. George Walton Academy is still continuing to operate normally as of press time Friday.

“As of Monday, March 16th, all extracurricular activities at Walnut Grove High School will be suspended for a minimum of two weeks,” Walnut Grove Athletic Director Taylor Brooks said. “The campus at WGHS will be closed for all activities. Practices, individual workouts, weightlifting, agility training and any of the sort will not be allowed during this time.”

The announcements come on the heels of the GHSA’s announcement Thursday that the Association wouldn’t be forcing schools to cancel athletic events amid fears of COVID-19. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp also held a press conference Thursday afternoon and issued a call to action, but did not mandate that schools close due to the virus.

“The regular season belongs to the schools themselves,“ GHSA Executive Director Dr. Robin Hines said. “We can only recommend that they suspend playing. The final decision will rest with the local school systems, but we hope they heed the Governor’s and the GHSA’s recommendations.”

The GHSA state literary meets are expected to be made up at a future date.

Hines said the GHSA would provide an update on the issue “by close of business on Friday, March 27.”

“We hate to have to make this call, but we must do what is in the best interest of our student-athletes and fans.”

GHSA sent out letters to its member schools Tuesday morning advising them not to overreact to the spread of COVID-19, but that GHSA would support decisions by school officials to cancel or postpone contests.

“In the event that circumstances dictate that you postpone events, the GHSA will support those decisions and help with rescheduling or any way we can. Regions are responsible for determining those eligible for post season and keep this in mind should games be cancelled/ postponed. I know this is a difficult time and the weather this spring season has not made things any easier.”

Some area coaches weren’t initially thrilled with the GHSA’s decision.

“I think the GHSA needs to make a decision for all of its member schools,” Brooks said. “It needs to be all or no one.”

George Walton Academy Athletic Director Mark Whitley said he and school administrators had a plan in place on how to handle sporting events moving forward.

“Dr. (Dan) Dolan and I have talked and we’ve been working on protocol here for about a week and a half,” Whitley said. “As of right now we’re business as usual. The biggest thing is that we want to take every precaution as possible. We’ve got a lot of things coming up on our campus and we’re just trying to keep watch.”

Riverside Military Academy, which is a member of Region 8-A with GWA, has already announced it will not allow fans at its sporting events.

“They’re saying no one from their schools or the visiting school can attend the games,” Whitley said of Riverside’s decision. “I don’t think we would take that step just yet, but that’s an option.”

The NBA announced Wednesday that it has suspended play “until further notice” after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. On Thursday, the MLB, MLS, NHL and XFL suspended their respective seasons due to concerns.

In an earthshaking step, the NCAA canceled all winter and spring sports championships Thursday, including the March Madness and the College World Series. Many conferences, such as the SEC, have only suspended pay and plan to reevaluate the situation at the end of the month.

GHSA sports currently in season are baseball, gymnastics, soccer, lacrosse, golf, tennis, slow pitch softball and track and field.

Brett Fowler is the sports editor of The Walton Tribune. He is a 2016 graduate of the University of North Georgia and a 2010 graduate of Monroe Area High School. Brett has been covering Walton County sports since 2011.

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