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Prep football squads get ready for season, safely six feet apart

Coach Daniel Corhn looks on as East Henderson Eagles Billy Johnson, Ty McCrary and Donaven McHenry lift weights, six feet apart. Coach Daniel Corhn looks on as East Henderson Eagles Billy Johnson, Ty McCrary and Donaven McHenry lift weights, six feet apart.

On a recent afternoon, the East Henderson High School Eagles drilled on the football field, lifting weights, running and building agility. The practice looked far different than usual, however, as coaches and athletes wore masks and practiced social distancing while training.


The Henderson County public school system began allowing high school athletes to return to campuses on June 22. Coaches and athletes alike must follow covid-19 safety guidelines outlined by the school district and the North Carolina High School Athletics Association as part of Phase 1 of a return to athletics. The practices are constrained by a strict set of rules put out by the NCHSAA and no one is even venturing a guess whether the teams will actually play a game.
The Eagles’ head coach, Justin Heatherly, said the new rules have required a major adjustments. The distance and masks made it more difficult to feel like a team. “I kinda miss that bonding,” he said.

As the athletes practiced, Heatherly and the other coaches called out to remind them to stay distant. “They don’t understand the big issue of it,” Heatherly said. He expressed how important it is to prevent the spread of covid-19 during practice, so students do not carry it home.
Though districts could resume athletic activities as early as June 15, Henderson County Public Schools public information officer Molly McGowan Gorsuch said, the county school system backed the startup to June 22 to prepare logistically and communicate with coaches, athletes and parents and ensure a smooth transition.

During Phase 1, “athletic training rooms, weight rooms, and wrestling rooms are closed,”—as are locker rooms—and gymnasiums are limited to a capacity of 10 people, while outdoor spaces are limited to gatherings of 25. Team travel is not be permitted during Phase 1.
Parents and other spectators are not allowed and must remain in their cars. Athletes cannot arrive more than 15 minutes early and should leave immediately upon finishing practice.
Athletes and coaches must bring their own masks and water bottles, though the masks may be removed during “during high intensity aerobic activity.” No equipment may be shared.
All participants are subject to a daily screening prior to participation. According to Henderson County Public Schools, “Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or higher, or who reports any covid-like symptoms will not be allowed to participate.” A doctor’s note is required to return after a positive screening, indicating the individual’s symptoms are not related to covid-19 or it is safe for them to return. Athletes with at-risk conditions are advised to not participate during Phase 1.

Heatherly said he is concerned for the upcoming season and hopes the team will have a chance to play. McGowan Gorsuch said the district is still waiting on guidelines for future phases from the NCHSAA. The only phase currently outlined is Phase 1.

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Full guidelines and sport-specific information, as well as the required forms for participating student-athletes, can be found on