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High school athletics eye safety as COVID-19 remains a hurdle

After Jeffersonville High canceled this week's scrimmage and its season opener, coaches and families addressed the possibility of another uncertain season.

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — A new year of high school sports is already being met with familiar challenges in Kentuckiana.

Soon after Jeffersonville High School canceled its scrimmage this week -- along with next week’s season opener -- for COVID precautions, WHAS 11's Night Team went out to see how schools and families are battling the possibility of another uncertain, rollercoaster season.

Jeffersonville High made it out fairly unscathed last season, as far as the virus is concerned. No outbreaks, and the team went on to win sectionals.

So far, it's been a different story to start the fall. But coaches, players and parents we spoke to today say they're confident their schools will make it through by making the right choices.

When you ask the players themselves, they know what they want.

"We're trying to become the first regional champs in school history," said Cole Phillips, senior quarterback at Jeffersonville High.

"I want us to go get a ring this year," said Xavier Brown, junior quarterback at Louisville Central High School.

"I want to open a lot of colleges' eyes -- I want a full schedule," said Tyce Hall, a senior at Southern High School who qualified for a 5th year on the field & in the classroom because of COVID.

COVID-19 complicated that mission for so many in 2020.

"At the end of the season last year, he would just tell me, 'Mom, I just hope next year we won't have this problem," said Nicole Brown, Xavier's mother.

And it's managing to start creeping into this year too.

"It's definitely scary knowing anybody can go out at any moment, but we're just hoping for the best," Phillips said.

That's as countless high school athletes -- especially seniors -- across Kentuckiana get ready for the biggest seasons of their lives.

"Due to Coronavirus, it's [been] hard to show people what you can do in [just] games, but this year I have an opportunity," Hall said.

Jeffersonville High had fewer than a third of its players on the field for practice on Monday.

"We started losing players as early as practice number one," Jeffersonville High Head Football Coach Isaac Parker said.

Several players in quarantine after contact tracing, forcing a game-one scratch. The school became the first in our area to do so this Fall.

Coach Parker says it's the reality they must address before -- not after -- it's too late, in order to preserve the season as much as possible.

"I can tell you we try to take a proactive approach to it. We [have] implemented a lot of the same procedures that were successful last year," Parker said.

And down across the bridge at Louisville's Central High School, they're working to control what they can safety wise.

"It kind of caught up to us at the end," said head coach Marvin Dantzler. "They're going to get the best versions of us, and they can count on that."

Then even further south, Tyce Hall at Southern High is getting a second shot at a senior season because of what the virus took away.

"When I saw it, I never heard of anyone getting a fifth year of high school football," Hall said with a smile, remembering the moment he asked his coach about the possibility.

Now, like so many others, Hall has his fingers crossed -- all while letting everyone know what's at stake.

"Telling my teammates to stay away from those car shows, and those gatherings," Hall said.

We asked Coach Parker at Jeffersonville High if they've discussed vaccinations among the team. Parker says they've had 'loose conversations,' but that ultimately that decision is up to the students and their families.

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