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Monday, June 8, 2020

Highlands Athletics May Begin Again Soon

Administrators, School Board Members Indicate Desire to Honor Regular Dead Period

Highlands eighth grader Jenna Richey watches the ball following a putt in a practice last fall. The Fort Thomas Independent School District Board indicated a vote to allow sporting activities for July 13 could occur on June 8 at the regular meeting.
(Img: G. Michael Graham)
By G. Michael Graham

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association Board of Control recently voted 13-5 to eliminate the traditional dead period this year that typically goes June 25 through July 9.

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The board came to the decision to release the decisions of when to resume meetings and workouts to individual school boards and local health departments because teams had not been able to do anything together since early March. KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett noted players have been chomping at the bits to get back together.

"I guess them clearing the way for conversations to start in terms of possibly having something work out in the near future is better than the alternative of them saying everything is shut down completely for another month," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "That's encouraging. But that's still a long way away from a football season. I can't speculate on what that means."

But in a school board meeting Thursday, the Highlands School Board indicated it will allow activities for the Highlands High School sporting teams to resume July 13. That is two days before most of the fall teams could regularly start tryouts. The final decision will be made at the regular school board meeting on June 8.

Highlands Director of Athletics Kevin Nieporte said his concern came in starting things up and stopping them over the traditional dead period when players and coaches scheduled vacations with their families. He noted the coaches have communicated with returning players over the phone and online meetings during the shutdown as a result of Coronavirus 2019.

The KHSAA said limited team meeting with no more than 10 people can start on June 1. Then on June 15, youth sports can resume practices in guidance with Governor Andy Beshear's orders issued in May.

Most of the fall sports are outdoors. Some things need to be worked out for volleyball, which plays and practices in school gyms primarily. Gymnasiums have not been opened in Kentucky yet.

But football and soccer have huge concerns because they are high-contact sports. The returning volleyball and soccer players had to stop playing club ball in early March as a result of the pandemic.

"The guys are hopefully putting in the time," said Chad Niedert, Highlands boys soccer head coach. "It's hard to kind of focus on a team game when you can't get together."

But golf and cross country had few concerns outside of events and matches that involve a lot of teams. Highlands cross country Head Coach Brian Alessandro said the pandemic has not effected the teams much.

"We don't really meet until July 15 anyway. For us, it doesn't really change a whole lot," Alessandro said. "They are still going to get out and run and then we'll meet them in July."

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Highlands sophomore Alyssa Harris said the runners have been running around town when they can. Harris recently won the Triple Threat award. She also started on the Highlands girls basketball team at point guard this past winter and is on the track and field team in the spring. She runs long distance events or the 400-meter dash depending on the team needs.

"It's easier having teammates to push yourself and push them too," Harris said. "It seems like now all the hard work we've been putting in and all the extra hours where we really wanted to stay ahead will be better now."

Teams are not able to use school facilities to work out. That includes the fields not at the school at Tower Park, Highland Park and Winkler Field.

But the golfers can practice together at Highlands Country Club. Highlands boys golf Head Coach Bert Richey has taken daughter Jenna Richey, who is entering the eighth grade, up there. He noted he has not only seen the three main returning golfers in seniors Justin Gabbard, Luke Muller and sophomore Joel Craft up there, but others as well such as senior Mac Valentine and eighth graders Nate Surrey and Hank Schick.

"We're pretty lucky the Governor let the golf continue," Richey said. "It is a sport to where you can distance easily and you're never touching anyone else's equipment. Once they said the flag sticks had to stay in, there is nothing on that golf course that each person would be touching. It was good for our kids because at this time, there's not a lot of things the kids can do if they truly social distance. You can follow all the guidelines all the time and still have a normal round of golf."

Highlands girls golf Head Coach Mike Lipscomb is also excited for the season to hopefully start on time in late July. Senior Ellie Rowland and junior KJ Toole made state last year.

"A few more of the girls have more access to the course than others," Lipscomb said. "But all in all from what I'm understanding, they're all getting out and putting in time, which is really, really good to hear as a coach. They can definitely use the putting green as much as they want."

The regular season normally begins in August for the cross country, soccer, volleyball and football teams. The football team opens Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. at Cecil Memorial Stadium against the Scott Eagles.

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