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Hinton: MHSAA ‘held on as long we could’

Don Hinton bristled just a bit at the suggestion that the Mississippi High School Activities Association’s decision to cancel the rest of the 2020 spring sports season was mere formality.

“I wouldn’t use that word,” the MHSAA’s executive director said.

What was clear, however, was that after a month of waiting, a governor’s decree, and the prospect of ever-lengthening timelines and logistical challenges to get everything back on track, the matter had largely been taken out of the organization’s hands.

The MHSAA’s executive committee voted 15-0 on Wednesday to cancel the rest of the season for powerlifting, baseball, softball, golf, track and field and tennis because of ongoing governmental restrictions related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Don Hinton

Hinton said the MHSAA had held out hope of resuming the season and drafted several contingency plans to make it happen if given the all clear. When Gov. Tate Reeves closed public schools for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year, however, those all became moot.

“We held on as long as we could. When you close school it’s a whole other matter,” Hinton said. “We discussed what would happen before (Wednesday). We tried to do everything we could to keep hope alive for all of our young people.”

Mississippi joined more than two dozen other states — including Louisiana, Alabama and Texas — that have canceled high school sports for the rest of the school year. Most of those decisions were made in conjunction with school closures mandated by their state governments.

Hinton, though, said a number of other factors went into the decision, such as availability of venues, travel, and the possibility of seasons extending deep into June. The latter, Hinton said, would have created a thorny and hidden administrative issue.

Athletic physicals are good for 12 months, and most of those done in Mississippi expire in May along with the traditional spring sports season. Extending the spring season beyond that, Hinton said, would have required thousands of athletes to be screened at a time when mass gatherings are forbidden and the healthcare system is taxed.

Finding venues for competition also would have been a problem. Gov. Reeves’ order closed school buildings and facilities — meaning stadiums and fieldhouses as well. Many alternate venues such as city parks and golf courses are also closed under various local restrictions.

“The site was not the whole factor. You can play at home, or there might be parts of the state that’s had more cases than others, and people don’t want to go there and they don’t want you coming there,” Hinton said. “This wasn’t a ‘today’ decision.”

When the COVID-19 outbreak burst into national prominence in mid-March, the MHSAA initially suspended competition until March 29. That date was later extended to April 17 after Reeves closed public schools until that date.

The new key date in getting the state’s high school teams back on the field is June 1, when the 2020-21 academic year begins. Hinton said the MHSAA’s executive committee and medical advisory committees will continue to meet and issue guidelines to its nearly 200 member schools, but as of now teams in all sports will be free to conduct offseason workouts beginning on June 1.

During the summer, most teams meet several times per week for practices and scrimmages against other schools, or attend camps and tournaments. There are rules and limits to follow, but Hinton said it’s largely a hands-off period from the MHSAA’s vantage point.

“We let our schools do what they need to do in the summer. It helps all of our schools to set that date,” Hinton said.

After June 1, the next key date comes in late July when football practice is scheduled to begin. Hinton was hopeful that the coronavirus crisis will have abated by then, and the fall season can begin on schedule. No changes have yet been made to the 2020-21 schedule, and likely wouldn’t be until later this summer.

“I hope we’re kicking it off regularly like we should. Hopefully everything is over and done, and our schools have been able to get in regular routines. We haven’t changed anything looking toward the fall,” Hinton said.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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