High school football coaches grappling with positive COVID-19 tests at several programs

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune West Jordan High School football takes the field as they host Riverton High School, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 in West Jordan.

Positive COVID-19 tests at several Utah high school football programs have caused some coaches to doubt the upcoming season will start on time.

A staff member from Herriman High’s football team recently tested positive, causing the program to shut down and go into quarantine through Tuesday. But that was just one program that’s been affected.

Jody Morgan, president of the Utah High School Football Coaches Association and coach of Riverton High, said he knows of six schools that have been affected by positive tests among players or staff, including Granger, Corner Canyon and Layton.

Morgan said he’s scheduled to have a meeting with the Utah High School Activities Association on Tuesday to discuss whether the football season can start on time, and what contingencies are available if it can’t.

But the sentiment to start on time is not unanimous among coaches.

“I am still very nervous that the season will not go on to schedule,” Taylorsville coach Joseph Johnson said. “And in some regards, I don’t think that we really should be playing until it’s absolute safe for everybody to enjoy the season.”

Football teams all across the state have started summer workouts, which are governed under the rules of individual school districts. The UHSAA’s oversight takes over again July 27, and games start Aug. 14.

The remainder of the spring season was canceled by the UHSAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s been some adjustments to offseason moratoriums based on the sport. But the potential cancellation of the fall season has not been a topic of much discussion of yet.

Others, however, believe the season will start as planned.

“Unless something happens at the collegiate level, I do believe that football will happen on time,” said Patrick Thurman, Corner Canyon High’s athletic director. “Kids have been practicing, coaches preparing, and due to weather, we can’t really start any later to finish before the snow falls.”

Thurman did not specify if a Corner Canyon player or staff member tested positive for the novel coronavirus. But he did acknowledge the program was affected by it.

Christopher Williams, director of communication and operations at Davis School District, where Layton is, said parts of the district have been affected by COVID-19. But due to federal privacy laws, he did not elaborate further.

“Has COVID-19 affected summer activities? Yes,” Williams said. “As far as I know, at least four student groups have been affected by the virus. … the district will not share information regarding any student and their personal health situation. The district will also not identify any specific student group.”

Morgan pointed his attention to how schools or sports programs respond when a positive test emerges. If an entire team has to shut down due to one positive, he sees that situation as untenable in regards to having a season.

“If we have to shut down these programs for 14 days every positive test, the reality of having a football season is bleak,” Morgan said.

Morgan also mentioned that because it appears teenagers are less affected by COVID-19 compared to other age groups, perhaps only dealing with the people who tested positive would be enough. And if that teenager lives with someone who is more vulnerable, for example, the risk could be alleviated by either that athlete or the vulnerable person finding somewhere else to live temporarily, Morgan said.

The situation is far from perfect, he said, and some measures will have to taken.

“If you want to have sports this year, you have to be flexible on all fronts,” Morgan said. “If we want to have sports look exactly like it has for the last 20 years, that is not realistic and sports won’t happen this year. So something needs to happen.”

Playing football in the fall has further implications for some. Thurman called the sport the “crown jewel of any athletics department and of the UHSAA.” He added that the athletes need some normalcy in their lives, and playing will help achieve that.

For Farmington High coach Daniel Coats, it’s imperative that football happens this season.

“I truly believe that high school football needs to have the season this year because it’s such a major player in a ton of people’s lives,” Coats said. “It will truly put people back at ease and take away a lot of the fear about life that’s going around.”