“The Sports Brew Show” officially kicked off its summer schedule last evening with featured guest, Dr. Wayne Fawcett, superintendent of the Paris School District. The two-hour show is broadcasted live on the internet every Tuesday from 4-6 p.m.
Dr. Fawcett was asked a variety of questions that ranged from the premature shutdown of school in March due to the COVID-19 virus to the reopening of school in August. Earlier in the day, the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) announced that its board of directors had voted in favor of waiving the normal mandatory summer dead period that annually is extended from the last week in June through the end of the first week in July. As has been previously reported, the AAA had enacted a dead period due to the pandemic that was due to expire on May 30. Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson, had authorized limited workouts with an abundance of precautionary measures aimed at preventing the re-escalation of the virus and had stated that “contact” sports and their possible resumption would be “revisited” on June 30. I asked Dr. Fawcett about the AAA’s decision and what he thought this meant for the possible start of contact sports on July 1.
Dr. Fawcett responded by saying, “The governor has made it clear that he wants, expects, and desires for school to start normally on August 13, which is the first day for all schools across Arkansas. That’s the goal. And so, we are planning for that. We are planning for a normal start to the school year. But, simultaneously, we are having to plan for everything and every eventuality and beyond that. We were anticipating today’ decision from the AAA. In fact I was in communication with our rep, Greg Grant (AAA board representative for the Paris area and superintendent at Danville) and had talked to him yesterday and we discussed the issue. The dead period whenever we have a normal summer; the kids need that break because they have gone through either spring sports or spring football. Pretty much every sport is year-round now. You roll right into June and no matter what the sport you are continuing to play all the time. So, the kids need a break. They need some time away from coaches, school, and touching those volleyballs and whatever it is. So, the time around the fourth of July is a good time to do that. A time for families to go on vacation and get away from those things. But, now, effectively, these coaches, until last Monday, could not have any kind of physical contact, any kind of practice, since March 13. Well, you can’t go back out on the volleyball court, or the football field, and just pick up where you left off. So, waiving the dead period allows us to regain some continuity. I was in favor of waiving the dead period; that was my recommendation to our representative. Certainly, I know people have plans (vacation plans), and if they do, that’s fine. We need to get those student-athletes back into playing condition. Today is pretty hot, you can’t go back out and put on full pads in August and then expect to play your week zero (early season football opener the third week in August) and even into September. Your three non-conference games, playing four 12 minute quarters, if your are a 3A school district, there is a good chance that at least half of your team is going to play both ways. That’s just tough on kids. And you start getting injuries or heat-related illnesses and things like that, you are going to have some that are going to quit just because they don’t want to be out there. So, it is good that they have waived the dead period.”
When asked if the AAA decision would lead the way for the governor to release contact sports to resume practice on July 1, Dr. Fawcett said, “I certainly hope so. The governor is supposed to make an announcement tomorrow on Phase 2.” And Dr. Fawcett was right on the money. In fact, today, Governor Hutchinson announced that he was moving Arkansas into Phase 2 on Monday, June 15. Dr. Fawcett said that he wants to think that the governor will release team sports by July 1. “I certainly think that we can mitigate the risk. I would love to be able to, much like the flu, be able to test our athletes and coaches, and I think we can mitigate the risk for those who are involved in it (sports) so that they can play. Of course, testing is a big part of that until a vaccine is developed. But, we’re not there yet. We don’t have the test yet. So, we’re still in some unknown areas at this point. We are going to prepare as if we are going to be able to put the pads on and play, but, much remains to be seen.”
Dr. Fawcett indicated that there have been a lot of discussions involving how the seasons may be modified to compensate for the lack of conditioning time that athletes may have entering the school year. Nothing has been official to this point, but much discussion has taken place among coaches and administrators. Additionally, it is still unknown as to how fan attendance at games may or may not be regulated. Enforcement of any plans to regulate seating or possible social distancing at games is also a big unknown at this point. Candidly, it will place school administrators and law enforcement in an unwelcomed position of having to enforce social distancing at games. So, at this point, it is clearly unknown. This issue may become a little clearer in August.
The Paris community can be proud of the job Dr. Wayne Fawcett as his administrative team have done throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, the focus of their efforts has been to support the students of the district throughout the district. But deflecting the praise, Dr. Fawcett praised the teachers and all of the Paris employees for doing whatever it has taken during the past three months, as well as the jobs they do throughout the normal school year.
Looking ahead, Dr. Fawcett touched on the challenges that lie ahead for the Paris School District. “We have to be prepared, and I don’t mean this lightly, but we have to be prepared if the second day we have to go out (close school) again. We have to be prepared for alternative methods of instruction (AMI). We have got to make sure that our computers and network are in good shape, because everyone of our students in K-12 have a computer. We have to expand our broadband access. In fact, right now, we are addressing that problem. We are really having to rethink what being at school really means, and what instruction means.”
So, as I hope our readers can see from Dr. Fawcett’s interview, the students of the Paris School District are in the caring and loving hands of the leadership and its employees. Like the superintendent said in his first few comments, every employee in the district is an educator, no matter what job they perform. The first duty is to love our students. And from our interview with Dr. Fawcett, it is evident that the first duty has been met by not only the Paris superintendent, but by every employee and community patron.
A member of Dr. Fawcett’s administrative team, Vicki Churchman, Food Service Director, followed the superintendent as the next guest on the show. Mrs. Churchman fielded questions on the show from hosts Tim Johns, Marvin Wiggins, and myself. The title of the segment was “tens of thousands of miracle meals.” The Paris director has quietly, behind the scenes, coordinated the delivery of literally tens of thousands of meals to students throughout the district. Meals have been delivered each day to the Paris proper community as well as to the surrounding communities in the Paris areas that are in the school district’s attendance zone. When asked about her work, Mrs. Churchman said, “It has been around 50 or 60,000 meals that have been delivered. I enjoy doing it. We’re giving them good quality meals while meeting the requirements (state and federal food service requirements for schools) and have been feeding them the same thing that they normally eat when they are in school. We had already ordered (food and supplies) for when school was in session. So, we started with that. We used a lot of our commodities (federally provided foods that schools can order) so we just kind of guessed at how many we expected to feed. Dr. Fawcett and Dr. Cureton (assistant superintendent) helped us with determining the locations for delivery. They helped us decide where we would go. We wanted to get out of the town so we could get some of those like New Blaine, Harmony Church, and other areas. We started at 7:30 every morning and had it prepared and ready to go by 11 a.m. We are just keeping it going because it is what we love to do.”
Vicki Churchman is just another example of the many dedicated employees of the Paris school district. The mission of the district over the past three months of the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly been to support the needs of the students of the district. The entire crew of “The Sports Brew Show” salutes Vicki and the entire food service staff and supporting employees who have brought thousands of meals to students at a time when people and have suffered through massive unemployment, layoffs, and illness.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of the Paris schools, baseball and softball seasons were in their second weeks. On that last day, the Paris softball team was hosting Perryville in a critical game, and in the second inning, rain forced the postponement of the game. Little did most people know that the postponement would turn into not only a game cancellation, but would mark the cancellation of the entire season. Paris softball coach Donald Hart was the next guest on the show, and in his interview, he reflected on that fateful day and what has resulted since. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to. But, that’s just the way things go sometimes. Sure seems like a long time ago, March 12 (the last day of the season vs. Perryville.) When it ended, we didn’t know how long, and just now, it seems like it has been forever. Now, just getting back and getting to see the kids and see how bad out of shape we are, it’s just like starting over. But, it’s good to just be getting back into something that is normal. We were just starting to gel as a team. I don’t know how far we would have went (in the conference race) but I felt like we had the potential to go a long ways, but we will never know.”
Paris was seemingly on the verge of an outstanding softball season when the rain came along with the AAA’s cancellation of the spring sports seasons. That day, the Southeastern Conference announced the cancellation of all spring sports for the current academic year, and the National Basketball Season had suspended its schedule of games indefinitely. It was a surreal day; one that sports fans will never forget. For the Paris Lady Eagles softball team, little did they know, their season too was about to be cancelled. Show host Marvin Wiggins commented, “you could just sense that things were not going to be right. Just my gut feeling was that was going to be it (the final game of the season.) And Marvin’s gut feeling proved to be prophetic.
Coach Hart is close to his players and families, and it was on hard him, as well as the players. “It was tough. We had kids that were seniors and it was their last chance and I felt sorry for them. They had waited for that moment and some of them had worked very hard to get to where they were at, and they just didn’t get the chance to experience results of their hard work. I hate it for my seniors the most. That was their last time they would ever step on the field as a member of the team for Paris.”
Since the AAA has relaxed the restrictions for baseball and softball, players may now play summer club games with modifications in place. I asked Coach Hart if Paris had any softball players playing in summer ball. Coach Hart said, “No. Unfortunately, we just have one that is playing travel ball (club softball), so, that is why it is important that we practice. We have to share athletes with the other sports (due to the limitations in place by AAA during the return to workouts in June) and a lot of my kids who play softball also play volleyball and basketball, so, we’re not fortunate to have a lot of travel ball kids. We go play some in the summer; some of those kids do, but this nobody has been able to do anything (due to the AAA dead period). We are now a long way away from where we were in March.”
As the show continued, the overall theme of the district and community coming together to support students and family was underscored by the need of not only meeting their educational and nutritional needs, but their spiritual needs as well. The next guests on the show were Pastor Tammy and Brian Frederick of Harmony Assembly of God Church. Bringing show host Tim Johns to tears, the two talked about the devastation that students and players have faced since the abrupt cancellation of school and the spring sports seasons. Pastor Tammy Frederick commented, “I like softball, its my game. It broke my heart (seeing the season cancelled). I told our church several months before the COVID hit, I experienced this dread; like it was something in our family, something in the church, and I prayed. The only thing I could hear the Lord say was dig down deep and be ready. So, we were not given much notice that we were not going to be able to have our people back, and as a pastor you worry about their physical health, their mental health, their spiritual health, their finances. By worry, I don’t mean twiddling our thumbs in worry, I just mean that we were concerned about them overall.” The pastor vowed to her congregation on that last Wednesday night in church that the church would stay connected with them on Facebook. And the Fredericks have maintained that vow throughout the pandemic. “I love softball, but the number one thing that drives me is the love and hope of Jesus Christ.”
The Fredericks talked about their concerns for the effects of the church closures on the mental and spiritual health of the community. Brian Frederick commented, “I think there is an opportunity to come out of this stronger than we were when it started. There’s an opportunity for churches to go and reach some people we have never met before. We had no idea that we would have an influence on them. But, there are also those that we worry about if we haven’t had any connection with them for twelve weeks and we feel like we have lost that connection with them. It has drawn some together, and others have seemed like they have isolated. And that’s what worries us.”
Pastor Fredricks spoke of the athletes who were told they could not play in the spring. “You take a player that can’t play and just tell them how bad they are and you will depress them. But you find something that a player can do well and you focus on that and you will have a better player. In that sense, we are spiritual coaches. Words of hope and caring are what the Fredericks are all about.
The final segment of Tuesday’s Sports Brew Show featured a senior spotlight on new Paris graduates Luke Trusty and Robyn Gossard. As boyfriend and girlfriend, Luke Trusty was a multiple sport athlete and Robyn Gossard was a premier player on the Lady Eagles volleyball team, as well as president of the school’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter. Robyn and Luke will be sorely missed next school year.
The two outstanding members of the Class of 2020 spoke about their post-secondary plans. Luke Trusty will enter the U.S. Air Force National Guard after completion of basic training this summer. After enlistment and completion of training, he plans on attending the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he plans to follow in his father’s foot steps, Rick Trusty, as a history teacher at Paris High School.
Robyn Gossard has enrolled at Southern Arkansas University (SAU) where she plans to study pre-veternarian medicine. Gossard, recently named as a member of the 2020 Arkansas All-Star Volleyball team, has a love for horses and other farm animals. Just like her boyfriend, Luke, Robyn plans on returning to the Paris community to live and fulfill a big need of continuing vet services for Paris and the surrounding rural communities. All of us wish both students the best of success in the service of our nation, their college educations, and their future service to the Paris community.
Guests for next week’s show (June 16) will include Paris High School athletic director Casey Mainer, followed by guests Steven Davenport, and senior spotlight guests Paiton Forbis and Ciara Boswell.
By the way, the word of the show is getting out. Ratings are increasing each week, so you will want to join the many listeners of this new Paris internet show every Tuesday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.