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New school calendar may wreak havoc on athletics

Local, small town, school board members and/or candidates sometimes get accused of desiring to be on the school board because of a single item, and maybe even a personal agenda.

It could be keeping taxes low, or getting rid of a certain principal, or banning a particular textbook. In a county like ours, with one high school, it could be to maintain a superior athletic program.

I'm not here to try to read the minds of McDuffie County board members, but I have made one observation. When the school board adopted the 2006-2007 school calendar, they could not have even been remotely thinking of athletics. In my opinion, this year's calendar is a mess as far as athletics is concerned.

Let's start with our favorite, football. The Georgia High School Association wised up and moved the season back to its rightful place with a Sept. 1 kickoff. At the same time, McDuffie County will start to school on July 31. The GHSA will allow practice in shorts only beginning on Wednesday, Aug. 2, and full pads on Monday, Aug. 7. The concept of carrying the team to a remote location for a week of intense practices called camp has long since been eliminated by school starting in early- or mid-August. Now, it is impossible for the team to benefit from any type of two-a-day or camp situation right here at home. The guys will already be in the classroom two days before practice is even allowed to officially start.

Will this quirk in "calendaring" affect the team's early season performance? I have no idea. Only time will tell. The team's practice time will obviously be limited from seasons past. It may even help as the season wears on because the boys' legs may stay fresher. If I were a coach though, I'd tell you: It would worry me. In the past, the football kinks have pretty much been worked out before the team has to start spending seven hours a day in school, studying and doing homework.

Now here comes the real kicker. After the Bulldogs have played four games and ready to hit mid-season form, they'll then get six days off from school. That's right; October 2-9 will be a fall holiday for all students, except football and softball players. The football team will be preparing for a big region crossover game with Benedictine in Savannah that week. The week out of school could help the cause, but it sure does break the routine that the team will just be getting used to. Another concern will be how will the players practice after the holidays are over as the region schedule continues. There will be a readjustment to their biological clocks.

The softball team will also be in the meat of their schedule with the region championship having to be decided within two weeks. My hope is that the coaches can figure out a plan to use these six days out of school in the middle of the season to their advantage. Maybe they can get some tips from the basketball coaches who have been dealing with two weeks off at Christmas in the middle of their season forever.

Basketball teams usually enjoy the Christmas break by taking a trip to play in a tournament somewhere. Region play normally starts in January. Football and softball aren't designed to do that, especially in October.

Just a mere five weeks after the Christmas break, school will recess for another week, Feb. 5-9. The basketball teams will be staring their region tournaments in the eye, as their champions will have to be decided by Feb. 17. Is that a good time to break their routine yet again?

Girls' track practice starts Jan. 22 and the boys begin on Jan. 29. Tennis and soccer can start practicing on Jan. 23 and golf starts on Jan. 30. All of these sports will be just underway when the February vacation rolls around. The coaches will have to be innovative with practice schedules during this off week.

Baseball won't have to deal with these extra breaks because their practice can't begin until Feb. 12. They are accustomed to playing through the Spring Break in April although it can often be difficult to find opponents willing to play, especially in the Augusta area.

Fortunately McDuffie County is relatively small and the kids don't get too scattered during school holidays, and transportation to practice is not a major problem. I'm a traditionalist, though, and would feel better if the football team could get in at least a week of practice before starting the everyday grind of school as they approach the season's start. The midseason week off really concerns me.

I like the idea of a routine, and this year's non-routine routine is spooking me. I'll bet if you took a poll of the coaches and players some would also be fretting. Luckily, it is not my problem to figure out the best way to handle these missing school days in the middle of every season.

If it was my problem and the teams hit some sour notes, I'd be tempted to say the board wasn't thinking of athletics when they made that plan. That would be a twist. Some have never heard that complaint from their constituents.

Web posted on Wednesday, July 19, 2006

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