A conversation about safety, football, and community support

Anderson County High School “Home of the Mavs” Athletic Director Gary Terry speaks to The Courier News’ editor, Ken Leinart, about the recent TSSAA decision about delaying the 2020 high school football season until the end of Gov. Lee’s COVID-19 related state of emergency orders. The start of football and soccer seasons are delayed until after the order expires Aug. 29. Other non-contact sports are scheduled to begin as normal. What follows is a transcript of that interview, edited for length but not content with only Gary Terry’s comments.

Governor Lee’s extension

It was certainly a surprise for the TSSAA, and I guess a bigger surprise for us — we know Gov. Lee extended the order there, the extension order.

We were all expecting to go back next week after or our two-week dead period and get back to some football ... But we’ve been dealt this and we’re going to do the best we can with it; continue on like we did in June with the same practice schedule and times and things we did in June and just continue to do that in July.

Normally in July anyway … We can have some seven-on-sevens normally, but we’re not going be to able to do that this July … and by the end of July would be some scrimmage time and we’d get to put some kids into live action because you know a lot of kids look really good without the pads on and when you put the gear on a lot of that stuff changes sometimes. And you get to find out which kids can go out there with gear on and do the things you ask them to do.

Our school system did a really great job, Dr. (Tim) Parrott, Greg Deal and myself. We met with Brad Collette and of course came up with a really solid plan to get out kids back out there … in all sports, not just football and I know football is the big one. Sometimes we forget we got girls soccer, volleyball, cross country, golf … We’re temping all those kids before practice and making sure we ask all the vital questions so that we can ensure that we have a healthy group out there practicing and I think we did a really, really top-notch job of it in June as far as documenting all that information and temping all our kids. We didn’t have any outbreaks of anything. The kids did a really, really great job and I want to commend all of their families for doing such a great job following the rules and the expectations set forth by the coaches because our coaches did a great job executing the plan put together by the athletic directors at both schools and like I said, we didn’t have one incident that I’m aware of; didn’t have any phone calls from any parents or any kids saying my kid’s sick or my kid came to practice sick. None of that occurred.

So, at Anderson County I feel really good about what we’re doing and as we come back from this two-week break if we can continue to do that, continue to keep our teams healthy, you know we’ll be able to have some seasons put together.

Right now, as we speak, I think it it’s on the governor’s desk to review the option of putting high school athletics in with college and pro athletics, like he’s exempted them and adding high school athletics in there and letting us continue on with our season the way it should be in the way that I hope that he will.

The three options

for football

The three options that were given to us, those three options all have different elements, and I don’t think there’s a wrong choice … Three different options for us to choose from if Gov. Lee decides he’s not going to included high school with the college and pro games. Any of those three options are good for everybody, I think.

I don’t think there’s a wrong choice right there because ultimately at the end of the day we want to have a season and whatever it takes to have a season, we’re willing to do that.

The first option is a seven-game regular season where you’ll play your regular district, or region, games. Four teams will be chosen to make the playoffs, the top four teams out of that seven-game season.

Basically it just gives more teams an opportunity, just like we would any normal year, the top four teams out of that seven game season make the playoffs and for some regions they have only four teams and they’re all going to make it no matter what their record is.

Other teams like Oak Ridge and Powell, West and Fulton, they play in a bigger district and four teams are going to make it and three teams are not.

You know Clinton is in that district as well … So it’s really a playoff setting for you each week.

Option two gives you an eight-game regular season and the benefit to this is you are going to get another opportunity for a home game and if the program’s driven on money, and a lot of programs are, they’re based on, you know, if we don’t make enough money we can’t pay our bills, so they want that home game so they can pay their bills. So, they’ll have an eight-game regular season but only the top two from each region will make the playoffs with this. Now in the case of Oak Ridge, Powell, Fulton, West, Clinton, two teams are going to make it and two really good teams aren’t going to make it.

And that, in my view, is a shame and ultimately at the end the day it’s based on what your school’s vision for your program is. Do you want to make money or do you want your team in the playoffs?

An eight-game schedule will give one more home game but only gives you two teams that get to get to go to the playoffs.

Option three adds another game to your schedule and you play nine regular season games, but only the top two make the playoffs again.

There again in the case of the Oak Ridge region you talk about Oak Ridge, Powell, Fulton, West; that’s four really, really good football teams. I think Powell and West are picked top five in the state. If those two make it, that means Oak Ridge, who has a good football team, and Fulton, who has a good football team, they’re not going to get to go to playoffs, and that’s a shame.

And I say that in my viewpoint of this, that it does add another regular-season game to the schedule and another home game, but each school’s going to do. They’re going to vote on this and each school’s probably going to vote on what’s best for their school from their viewpoint.

At Anderson County High School, as long as I’ve been there, with Dr. Bill McCracken, Greg Deal, Andrea Russell, and now Ben Downs as our principal — our number one thing and always has been, and as far as I’m concerned it will be as long as I’m there — is what’s best for kids. And to me, what’s best for kids, at Anderson County High School, is giving them a chance to win a state championship and I think you get that with the four teams in the playoffs, but you’re going to cut yourself a home game right there. And like I said, we’re not money driven at Anderson County and we try to win playoff games to give our kids a chance to state championships and that’s not just in football, but that’s what we’re talking about here with the three options from the state — what’s best for kids and for us we’re probably going to vote … For the top four teams to go to the playoffs.

I think it’s more kids more opportunity to compete for a state championship and that’s what we’re trying to do at Anderson County.

Some schools may vote option number two because they want that extra home game because they want that extra piece of money to pay their bills, and that’s fine, too. Like I said, I don’t think there’s a bad option in there with those three.

Getting back on the field and community support

We created a great plan back in May and executed that plan to a T in June.

If our coaches will do that again, and our kids and their families will do that again … Like I said, safety of our kids is number one and kids are number one and if we can do that, execute the plan again, we can give ourselves a great chance and great opportunity to have a season.

They’re great and there again… Going back to the money part of it, at the end of the day, we all got to pay our bills and have to have that money, but every time that I’ve reached out to our community and said, “We need this amount of money for this item,” they have come through. I mean, as fast as I ask for it they come through with it.

It’s fun for me, amazing to me, to live in a community where if the community sees value in something like a turf field, or just any little item we could come up with, if they see value in it for our kids, they’re going to find a way to make it happen and it is a treat for me to live in a county that does that, that values our kids and what our schools do … I can’t say thanks enough and I say thanks a lot to these folks and I want to publicly thank them, too, because they really come through for us for what we ask, and this will be no different.

We’ll ask and we’ll get it because our community values what we do and values our kids and they see that safety is number one and we’re going to do our best to keep our kids safe and that they do a great job of executing our plan.

On July 8, Bernard Childress, the head of the TSSAA and the Board of Control … They met (June 30) for quite a while and they tried to hammer some of this stuff out … I think they were caught a little off guard with Gov. Lee’s extension so they met to try to hammer some of the stuff out … They’ve got kids first and they’re going to do a good job to make sure that if Gov. Lee doesn’t allow high school to be joined in with college and professional athletes, we’ll pick a good option, what’s best for the kids, and whatever they pick, because they’re our governing body and we pay them to be part of their organization, so we’re going to do what they tell us to do right there, as we always do

We’re just excited about July 8 because we’re going to find out what it looks like. Everybody wants to know and hopefully July 8 they come out with a good plan for us and we can go out and get these kids out of the house and back out on the field.

And it’s not just football. Football takes kind of the lead there across the state. It’s volleyball … Our volleyball program, they’ve got a chance to win a championship again this year. They’ve got a great team. Our girls soccer team is going to be really, really good, so it’s an exciting time at Anderson County High School to watch these go out and compete.

Sometimes we let money get in the way of that stuff and we can’t do that. We have to do what’s best for our kids and what’s best for them right now is to get them back out of the house, back in the school, and back on the field.

And we can only do that if we do what we’re supposed to do these next few weeks as far as taking care of ourselves and making sure we follow the guidelines and taking temperatures and those kind of things.

Restricting fan


That’s certainly a possibility and if that’s the case, we’ll do the best we can. We’re fortunate we got a really big stadium and we did our graduation a few weeks ago — executed exactly the way we wanted it to. We haven’t seen our numbers explode or go up at Anderson County because of the graduation that we had, or Clinton had, we haven’t seen that.

Those were very successful events and if we can do those same things as we come in the ball games as far as taking temperatures, wearing masks, and distancing a little bit, I think will be fine … It’ll look a little different but there will be an opportunity for our kids to get out there and complete.