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‘We’re kind of in purgatory’: Newton County reacts to indefinite suspension of athletics
Eastside FB
Local athletes were forced to press pause on their seasons for the foreseeable future this week after Newton County suspended athletics and extracurriculars indefinitely. - Mason Wittner | The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — The local sports scene was shaken up last weekend when Newton County School officials announced they would be suspending all fall sports and extracurricular activities indefinitely beginning Monday, Aug. 17.

The parameters of the suspension were unclear in the statement put out by the Newton County School System. Officials stated that they would “consider” resuming activities once again when the COVID-19 statistics appeared to become “favorable.”

Newton County Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey briefly addressed the public’s concerns about the suspension during the NCSS Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.

“We understand that folks are concerned about athletics,” Fuhrey said. “We’re looking at that. We’re talking about trying to figure out how to make that happen, and to do it safely to protect all of our children and all our staff members. And so if people would just hang tight for us for a little bit of time, we will get the information out there and share with everyone what the next steps will be.

“We’re working on trying to decide if the timing is right.”

Throughout the week, coaches and athletic directors at Alcovy, Eastside and Newton high schools spoke with The Covington News and voiced their disappointment with the county’s decision to bring sports to a halt.

“I hope it’s temporary. There’s a lot of families in the county that have a lot riding on — a lot in invested [in] — this season, and I would hate to see them not get an opportunity this year,” Alcovy head football coach Jason Dukes said. “My main concern is for the health and safety of my players, but of course as a coach I’m disappointed to not get an opportunity to play right now.”

Eastside head football coach Troy Hoff expressed similar sentiments.

“Disappointed in the decision,” Hoff said. “I’m hopeful that very shortly we can find a path to getting all of our extracurricular activities back together again.”

Last month, the Georgia High School Association announced that it would be delaying the start of the varsity football season two weeks. Alcovy and Newton were scheduled to kick off their respective campaigns on Sept. 4, followed by Eastside on Sept. 11. Meanwhile, the GHSA varsity softball and volleyball seasons have already begun.

Local athletic directors have now been placed in a difficult position due to the indefinite nature of the county’s suspension. They’ve each noted that they’re remaining in constant contact with the schools they’re scheduled to play, but they’re unable to provide future opponents with information about when — or if — their fall seasons will resume.

Newton County was not the first in the state to suspend its fall athletics. However, unlike Fulton County, which is delayed until Sept. 14, and Dekalb County, which is delayed until the end of September, officials have set no target date for reassessment.

As a result, the question of whether to temporarily delay games or cancel them outright has been made more complex.

“It puts us in a little predicament,” Newton athletic director Vincent Byams said. “Fulton and Dekalb, at least they know when they’re trying to get back and when sports will try to get back to playing. But for us, we’re kind of in purgatory a little bit. We’re not canceled, but we’re not playing either, so we’re just in the in-between.”

The Rams were forced to shut down their football program for the first two weeks of August due to players testing positive for COVID-19. Head coach Camiel Grant Jr. said the county-wide suspension “wasn’t a surprise,” but he expressed sympathy for the players who are having to press pause on their season.

“My message to [my team] was this is obviously disappointing, but it’s a setback,” Grant Jr. said. “ And just like in the game of football, we experience setbacks. We have to continue to find a way to make the best of whatever situation we’re in.”

Alcovy athletic director Thomas Lowe admitted to having conflicted feelings about the suspension.

“I think it was the right decision,” Lowe said. “You hate it for the kids because they have worked hard and they’ve done the grunt work of preparing for the season. But now, a few weeks out from their opener, they were given word that the season is suspended indefinitely.

“So I do think it was the right decision, but for some personal reasons I kind of wish that we would [play.]”

At Eastside, athletic director Phillip Davidson noted that the Eagles, like Alcovy, had not received reports of any positive tests from any of their teams prior to the suspension.

“We’re disappointed,” Davidson said. “We’ve actually started playing, so we just hope we can get back out there as soon as possible.”

As of Wednesday, Aug. 19, the Georgia Department of Public Health stated that Newton County had reported a total of 2,078 positive cases of the coronavirus and 52 deaths. In the last two weeks, according to the DPH, Newton County had reported 350 new cases per 100,000 residents.