The news Friday was good in so much as it wasn't bad.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson cleared the way for high school football teams to "grab their helmets" as soon as Monday to begin no-contact drills in preparation for what he and a lot of other folks across the state hope can be a regular sports season this fall. Monday marks the first date the Arkansas Activities Association has scheduled for school practices.
The announcement includes volleyball, cheerleading and band practices.
It wasn't really a dramatic change, except for the fact the governor didn't nix fall sports altogether. That in itself gave coaches across the state a clearer path toward preparing their teams for a fall campaign.
In terms of whether student-athletes can look forward to somewhat normal season of competition, questions linger. But Hutchinson said the passionate pleas from parents and students from across the state demonstrate the important role sports in local schools play in the lives of students and communities.
High-caliber athletes, if denied a chance to play in state, will travel elsewhere to continue their development, creating additional dangers related to the coronavirus, Hutchinson said. The governor said he's also heard from advocates who cite the evidence that athletic endeavors promote academic performance and better discipline among participants. Others have cited the power of extracurricular activities in discouraging dropouts. Hutchinson suggested Friday that practices for all the sports present opportunities to keep students in better-controlled environments that what the students would face if all sports were canceled.
The only real definitive word was for the practices now allowed for next week, Aug. 3-7. Beyond that, the governor has asked the AAA to submit a plan detailing protective measures that can be put in place as practices and competitions, by necessity, get into more physical contact. Thirdly, he appointed a high school sports advisory group laden with sports and medical experts to develop best practices for athletes. coaches and others, in consultation with the Arkansas Department of Health.
Lance Taylor, director of the Arkansas Activities Association, was giddy with excitement as he spoke at the governor's Friday press conference. He held up a cloth mask, telling Arkansas coaches and players "this is what's going to let us play this year." Wearing masks when players aren't on the field is the most important thing to help clear the way for them to play games, he said.
Maybe, just maybe, the question of fall sports can convince some within a segment of Arkansas' population so far unwilling to wear masks that they have a reason to do so. Should they already know better? Yes, but who cares why they wear masks as long as they actually do it?
Without a doubt, some will criticize the steps Hutchinson is taking toward playing sports and allowing other school activities in the fall. While Hutchinson has said he believes they're important and the state should continue its path toward the fall season, nothing is guaranteed. His task force may find it impossible to justify sporting events in the midst of a pandemic. Or -- and we hope this doesn't happen -- the case numbers could continue to swell, making the conduct of fall sports and other extracurriculars impossible.
It's three weeks until the start of school. Hutchinson said state and school officials will learn a lot in the coming days about what adjustments need to be made for the safety of everyone involved.
Want to compete, Arkansans? The best way to ensure that is to rein in behaviors that make transmission of the coronavirus more likely and to embrace wearing a mask, washing hands frequently and keeping distance between ourselves and others.
Let's hope fall brings healthy students able to engage in health competition. But more than that, everyone should take action to reduce the potential spread of covid-19.
What’s the point?
Gov. Asa Hutchinson identified a path toward fall football and other activities in public schools, but everyone has to do their parts.