After a 2020 Mississippi football season of mostly empty stadiums, schedule changes, postponements, cancellations and more, it looked as if we might have a more normal 2021. The delta variant has changed that, and we may be in for a wild ride.

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Tyler: Hello and welcome to the curricular sports podcast. I’m Tyler Cleveland here with my cohost, Rick Cleveland dad. How was your weekend? We 

Rick: came was fine. A lot of golf, 

Tyler: a lot of sweat. Yeah, I know we’ve got a pretty heavy subject to talk about today. We’re talking about COVID-19 and its effect on our sports, particularly in the high schools in Mississippi.

But before we get into it, what’s the point of having a podcast. If you can’t do a shout out, my dad shot his age last week, boys and girls. Dad, can you tell me a little bit about it? 

Rick: Yeah, it was so blonde hog theory. Um, I shot 68. I’ll be 69 in October. I wasn’t sure I’ll never go. I was ever going to do it, but, uh, I had a good day, one day last week.

Of course, the next round. Now I shot 80, which is even par for me, but, uh, 68 slide, 68. It’s like 12 under. It was really fun to do it one day. 

Tyler: Sounds like you’re going to be in good shape in 12 years too. Buddy only gets easier from here. Yeah. Right. Ladies and gentlemen, he bogeyed the last two holes. Yeah.

Well, let’s get into it, dad. Uh, you know, it looks like the subject on everybody’s mind, uh, is it seems to be COVID 19 and this resurgence with the Delta variant, just looking over the numbers this morning, Mississippi way up in cases, of course. You know, just looking at it, different counties, uh, you know, Wayne county up 320% George county cases up 238%.

And the Shoba county cases up 605% over 14 days. It looks to me like we are staring down another season full of. Uncertainty does the word that comes to mind for me, you know, I, I think people are reacting in different ways. Uh, some saying, well, let’s let her rip tater chip and others, you know, as concerned or more concerned than they were at this time last year.

Rick: Yeah. Tyler, you know, I talked to. Dr. Thomas Dobbs last week. Uh one-on-one and he, I mean, he’s really, really, really concerned. This Delta Verin is 10 times more contagious than spreads 10 times faster than the original strain. I asked him where we were right now, going into football season as compared to this time last year.

And he said in a lot of ways we’re worse off. You know, there was a time toddler and I know you felt the same way. Hey, we’re coming out of this. We’re gonna, we’re gonna have a normal football Susan with people in the stands and, you know, bands playing and all that. And it’s becoming pretty clear that that’s not necessarily going to be the case.

You know, one thing I asked. Dr Dobbs was, what would you do if you were a football coach right now? And he said, well, the first thing I would do is urge every player and every player’s parents to get the vaccination. It works and it works incredibly well with younger people, young, healthy people. You know, you mentioned the counties and, and their show book, uh, Nashoba having the highest rate in the nation right now, it’s the, 

Tyler: the 605% change over.

14 days is the highest rise. Well, 

Rick: guess what happened two weeks ago, we had into Shoba county fair people gathered, uh, from all the pictures I saw. They weren’t wearing masks, apparently a whole lot of them weren’t inoculated or vaccinated. And. Two plus two equal four. 

Tyler: Yeah. I love the fair and have gone.

This was the first year that they held it, that I didn’t go in about, I guess, five years or so. And I stayed away for that reason and I hated it. Cause you know, they had, the big thing was will hall and Mike Leach and uh, lane Kiffin all was getting together and I really would’ve loved to have done something like that.

I mean usually when the, the, you know, our big three head coaches get together. It’s a good bed that either you or I will be there and it’s just it’s things. But in retrospect, glad we decided not to go, but you know, it just, it kind of shows if you do just kind of go for it, what happens? And so. You know, for me, you know, going into another football season, I don’t remember putting the finishing touches on last season and thinking we got it in, you know, we crown six champions now let’s, it’s one of those things where we make the, make the birdie you’re not supposed to make.

It’s just, you know, let’s just get the hell off this green as fast as we can, you know? Um, but going into it this year, I just don’t know. I don’t know how different it will be. I think people’s attitudes have definitely shifted. I think there’s. Way more laissez Faire attitude about this go round, even though it appears on paper to be worse with cases, but just as the, just going into the season, what we’re looking at here and now we know that Lamar county school started back before most of the rest of the state, they started almost two or three full weeks earlier than everybody and other schools.

I know that Oak Grove and Purvis are. Online exclusive at this point, the Oak Grove football team is finishing up, uh, or they’re in the second half of a two week quarantine, trying to get everybody healthy before the season starts on August 27th. Their first game of the season now in jeopardy, the defending state champions six champions.

Right? So this is what we’re looking at when, and now that everybody else is back in school, many school districts opted to go mass optional, some went mass mandatory, and Madison county went mass optional Rankin county has gone mandatory. You know, I don’t know how much that’s going to mitigate it because I don’t know how well you remember high school.

Um, but. You know, at 16, you couldn’t tell me what to do and you know, I don’t, I don’t know. No that, 

Rick: yeah. 

Tyler: Yeah. So I don’t know how well any mass mandates will work anyway. Here’s the other thing to remember is that if your school does have an outbreak and the school decides to go to virtual learning, if you are a virtual learning exclusively, you cannot participate.

And under MHSA rules in schools, Or extracurricular activities can’t do band can’t do cheer. Can’t do you know anything? 

Rick: Yeah, I think that might have to be revisited would be my guess. You know, we were just listening to the Mississippi news on MPB coming in and they were interviewing Ricky knaves, the, uh, executive director of the MHSA and his closing statement was it’s going to be a while.

Right. And that’s. That’s the guy who’s leading the, I mean, it’s going to be a wild ride. I mean, we were going to have forfeits. It’s going to be crazy. Yeah. Let’s talk about a little bit of good news. I mean, old man. Lane Kiffin announced, uh, over the weekend that they’re 100% vaccinated. Oh, miss. That coaches, players, staff members, everything, a hundred percent Southern miss and Mississippi state have made no such announcement, but I’m.

You know, really trusted sources inside both programs who say they’re not far behind. I mean, they’re really close, not a hundred percent, but somewhere in the 80, 90% range. And, um, that’s good news. I wish there were more good news. 

Tyler: Yeah. It’s a short list these days, uh, on the COVID front. But what that does for those programs is just remarkable, especially for a team like Ole miss that’s completely.

You know, inoculated at this point, they do not have to follow any of the same contact, tracing guidelines. They don’t have to. I mean, you know, they still have to test and stuff, but they, you know, at this point, if somebody comes down with COVID, they don’t have to sideline everyone. Right. Everyone who is around him, uh, for the, the last week and a half.

So the freedom that allows you is just, you know, is remarkable. And I, you know, I think it’s something that. Everyone not to just hold all mess up on a pedestal, but it is, you know, this is an achievement and it’s something that. You know, should be emulated because, you know, I, and I tweeted this yesterday, you know, for what it’s worth.

I got my shots in February and March. It sucked when I got them, but it wasn’t that bad. Uh, you know, in retrospect looking back and since then, I’ve been able to. You know, live a relatively masculine existence, uh, you know, still wearing it in public when it’s appropriate. And when I go into certain establishments where it’s required, you know, happy to do it.

Uh, but for the most part, yeah. Being able to go and do and not, you know, not have to worry about it. I think I’ve probably been exposed approximately a million billion gazillion times at this point. I mean, I went to, I covered football season last year. I covered basketball season, which was indoor at the height of the initial.

Uh, I think it was the second surgeon during basketball season, you know, covered. M a, I S events where I was the only mass person in the gymnasium. So I know that I got exposed to it a bunch after having at least one and. Since then both of the shots and, you know, have shown no symptoms. And I’ve been able to go about life a little bit as, you know, as close to normal as it could be since before the pandemic.

And it’s really nice, you know? 

Rick: Yeah. Yeah. Well, uh, one thing that was interesting about my conversation with Dr. Dobbs is when I asked him, what about crowds? Uh, going back to full stadiums, uh, and football. And he, he said that that really didn’t concerning that much, that the more he sees on, on the COVID front, that if you’re outdoors and.

There’s plenty of air circulation, that it doesn’t concern him nearly as much as it would the band riding the bus to get to the game, to play that’s the concern is being, uh, indoors where there’s no circulation and, and, uh, That’s where he thinks it spreads faster. And I guess that’s what every bit of science right now shows.

I think the one thing we found out last year during the football, basketball, and even baseball with COVID is that boys sports is a lot different without crowds. You know, it’s the games just don’t quite see. Is exciting. You just don’t have that atmosphere. 

Tyler: Yeah. I mean, and just to be Frank about it, I mean, I covered a lot of sporting events last year that did have crowds.

Um, and it varied from school district to school district and from, you know, program to program on how many people were showing up and how they behaved once they got there. Uh, I remember the first week of the season being shocked, I went, I’m not going to. The town where I went to, but just being shocked at how, uh, How many precautions were in place the first week of the season last year, uh, it was, you know, people were masked, they were spaced out.

They only let so many people into the stadium, the media members, you know, instead of going into press boxes last season, I watched games from the sidelines, which you and I both agree that we prefer anyway, but I was. You know, the first game of the season from an end zone, uh, because I wasn’t allowed to go onto the sidelines where I could actually see what was going on.

And then the second week of the season had a completely. Experience, uh, went to a different school in a different county. And you know, it was, I couldn’t hardly, I mean, maybe like one and maybe six or seven people in the crowd, uh, was masked and there was no spacing on the sidelines and no precautions in place.

Um, and so going into it now, You know, it seems like everything else is so lax, uh, much more lax than it was at this time. Last year. People not taking the same kind of precautions. And I think a lot of it’s just fatigue. I mean, look, I’m tired of it too. I know you are, but I think there’s some fatigue factor there.

And I don’t think that the same precautions are going to be in place even at the places that do. As serious last year. And that, that really concerns me. Yeah. 

Rick: It’s a huge concern. I, I. You know, I, as I’ve said, I think during one of these podcasts before is that, uh, last year was the first year of my 68 that I didn’t go to a football game.

I mean, my momma took me when I was in diapers to football games, but last year I did not go to a single one just because I didn’t think being in a press box, it. In a closed in area like that was safe and maybe I would have done it if it was just me, but I didn’t want to expose, you know, the people I would be coming home to, you know, uh, I just, I don’t know.

What’s clear right now. What is very crystal clear and the recent numbers that were in the, the numbers that were in the New York times today. Show up better than anything else with nit Shoba county being the number one county in the nation when unvaccinated people gathered together, it’s going to happen?

Tyler: I think so now let me ask you this, this season. Do you plan to treat it any differently now that you’re back? 

Rick: I’m not sure yet. I’m not sure yet. I want to learn more about the, the breakout cases. Uh, there have been breakout cases, meaning somebody who has had the vaccination still comes down with COVID, but what Dr.

Dov stress with me. There’s those cases are a lot less severe and, uh, rarely, rarely require hospitalization. Whereas, uh, with the Delta variant, uh, particularly the, uh, the unvaccinated. Are having a really, really difficult time. I mean, let’s face it every emergency room. I mean, every intensive care unit in Mississippi is fail.

People are being treated in emergency rooms that should be in. Um, and I 

Tyler: see. Yeah. And it’d be clear. I mean, it’s, I believe of our new cases. It’s 97.7% on vaccinated folks. So if you’re listening to this and you’re on the fence, trust me. I mean, I mean, you know, I have to trust me. I, all I can say is I got the vaccine, didn’t grow it.

New limbs or appendages also didn’t develop any super powers, but I can be around people without, uh, catching COVID, which is nice. Um, one other thing I wanted to touch on is you mentioned you didn’t want to be in press boxes. Well, I covered games from the sidelines all last season, like I said, and. You know, I enjoy that as much as anything.

I mean, you get to get, you know, you’re down there on the field. You can’t be that close to the team cause you don’t want to be insensitive to the situation, but you do get a little bit more of the guys coming on and off the field. Um, and you get a sense of. When the coach gets more intense, you know what I mean?

You can tell that this is a key point. I mean, it’s just, it’s just different being down there. And I covered some games through some, through some slogs now. I mean, there was some weather, I mean, it was, it was a new kind of challenge for me, but I really did enjoy that. And I think that’s something, you know, people talk what will take away from the pandemic, what will keep, what we want.

I think I might keep that. I think I may stay on the sidelines 

Rick: where, you know, Tyler. Career in high school where you have a choice of sideline or press box, I’m always going for the sidelines because you can, you really get more of a feel for what’s happening and what the, um, I mean, even just watching the body language, you can tell when a team’s whipped and when it’s not and stuff like that, but, but you don’t have that option in college.

If you go into college games, those sidelines are very, very restricted. And so you’re, if you do what I do now, the one game you and I went to the spring when Jackson state was playing spring games, we sat outside in the stands way away from anybody else. And. You know, the Sonic boom wasn’t playing the, uh, there was, you know, it just, uh, it was a totally different.

Experience. 

Tyler: Yeah. And I think a lot of that true was, I mean, I love the pageantry of Friday nights and Mississippi. It’s, you know, so much fun with dad, but when the whole town’s not there, it’s still football, but it’s not the event. If that makes sense. I mean, I just tend to focus on the football itself.

You know, the atmosphere and stuff like that. Cause it just wasn’t, it wasn’t as prevalent. And I did go to some games that had, you know, bands, uh, late, especially later in the year. I think that was the schools got used to the, uh, contact tracing and the protocols and everything. They kind of got it figured out to where they could, uh, have a band and those games.

I mean, it just. Describe to you, how, how different those fields, especially like in, you know, in high school level, the bands play during the game. And as in the fourth quarter, uh, you know, when a team is trying to make it come back and the band’s playing behind me and it’s just, it’s a whole, it’s a whole thing.

And I, I miss that more than anything. Also hate it for everything else that goes around football. I mean, you think about, like he’s mentioned in the buses, the people that drive the buses, um, and it seems like every town has, you know, School bus driver who drives the football team that feels like they’re a part of the team.

And then the police escort and the cheerleaders and the, you know, the band directors and the band, man. I mean, that’s you forget that not having that as part of the atmosphere means that those people who have, you know, dedicated themselves to this are not getting to participate. And to me, that’s, that’s the hardest part, you know, even, even driving to games an hour and a half away to find out that they’ve been canceled it.

You know, for me, I can live with that. But for these folks, you know, this is their, this is what 

they 

Rick: do. Yeah. It’s um, I think the one message, if I have one for the only way we’re going to get back to normal is to get the shots and be smart and, and abide by, uh, the guidelines that that science has given us.

And all I know Tyler is, uh, I look every day at the numbers and the. Cases, keep going up the desk. Keep going. And our vaccinations rate stays right around 30 it’s right at 35% and three weeks ago, it was 33%. So it’s just not going up fast enough. 

Tyler: Right. I will have a football season. I don’t know if. You know, be as successful as last seasons was just based on the numbers.

I think, you know, with the Delta Varian and the spread and so much, I think we may have more canceled games. Um, and, and we’re not going to reschedule those this year. That’s, that’s a big change in the MHSA may. We’re not going to reschedule games to get canceled or forfeited due to COVID. So we may not have as many of them, my real.

Though is at the end of the day, I think we’ll crown six champions and the MHSA, uh, the AIS will go off without a hitch as they did last year because they just kind of going through the motions. But my real concern is when we get to the indoor sports, if we are still in this situation and when basketball season rolls around, we could be in a real situation where we can’t have.

Anybody in the gym. Right. And to me, that would be, you know, we can gather outside, we can have football games if we can’t have any fans in the gym for basketball. For me, that’s half the fun of basketball is watching the crowd reaction to somebody doing something amazing on the basketball court. 

Rick: It’s like watching a scrimmage.

You know, you hear the squeak or does mom, your mom call him squeaky, 

Tyler: squeaky shoes, man, she cannot. If anybody listening my mother hilarious when it comes to basketball and just know that this is a woman who has endured more sports on her TV and her living room than maybe anyone alive and, and. Doesn’t care, enjoys the pageantry of it.

And if you tell her the story behind what you’re watching, she’ll sit down and watch it, but she doesn’t care. And basketball is her is her least favorite because of the squeaky shoes and the horn. She cannot stand the shot clock, but the buzzer is, it just drives her insane. Uh, so we ended up having to turn on music in the background more often, then the Knight 

Rick: and the squeaky shoes were much more in evidence.

During the basketball games during the Penn, even in the Olympics, you know, you’re watching the Olympic basketball and all you hear is squeaking 

Tyler: right then. Yeah. Well, we’ll see what happens this season. I mean, I’m, I’m cautiously optimistic because I know going into last season. Just as concerned as I am now, because then it was just such an unknown and the schools were just starting back and you know, who knew what was going to happen now?

I just kind of, I know what to expect. So I feel like I’m less concerned, but at the same time, if we go through what we went through last year and with these same numbers, we have. Yeah, my coach Neve said it will be a wild ride. Yeah, I 

Rick: think it’s, it’s, it’s gonna be a wild ride. Uh, once again, uh, kudos to Ole miss for what they were able to achieve.

We don’t have a hundred percent vaccination rate and good on Southern and state for getting close to that. And I, I, I hope our high schools follow suit and I hope we have as normal a season as possible. But I fear it is going to be a wild ride. 

Tyler: All right, dad, we’re going to leave it there. Thanks to the folks at blue sky podcasting and produced this show.

I’m Tyler Cleveland with Scorebook Live Mississippi. He’s Rick Cleveland with mississippitoday.org. Keep up with all the latest and what’s going on in Mississippi sports. Uh, you can follow us on Twitter. I’m at Tyler Cleveland. He’s at Wrigleyville. If you need a vaccine, pretty much every CVS and Walgreens in the state has taken walk-ins takes about 10 minutes, have a good week, everybody.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

Tyler Cleveland

Tyler Cleveland is a senior reporter for Scorebook Live and the co-host of Mississippi Today's Crooked Letter Sports Podcast.