By D. Mark Mitchell

We are in the middle of July. The heat is normal, but COVID-19 is not. The pandemic that swept across the world continues to be the main topic in our lives. There are many things COVID-19 affects. Opening schools and playing sports are important to many in the South and the rest of the country. 

Last week two Power 5 Conferences, the Big Ten and PAC-12, announced they would play only conference games. The announcement means Alabama and USC will not play in the season opener and another teams outside those conferences will lose games.

In our home state, the Alabama High School Athletics Association continues to prepare for the upcoming season. AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese was a guest on the “On the Mark” radio show last Friday.

Savarese updated the listeners on where we are today. He talked about the meeting with the Fall Sports and Football Coaches’ Committees earlier in the week. The virtual meeting included ALSDE State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey and Doctors James Robinson and Jeffery Dugas.

Mackey briefed us on his “Roadmap to Reopening Schools” plan. Medical advisors presented the most recent data and updated the best practices relating to high school sports activities. Saverese said the meeting was to hear from the two groups and discuss some of the changes that will be implemented. Coach Sav mentioned some of the changes that will be recommended to the Central Board of Control on July 22. 

For one, sidelines will look different due to a few changes. Players will be allowed to spread out between the 10 yard lines. Coaches must stay in the normal box (25 yard line to 25 yard line ).

Savarese said “No one but essential personnel should be on the sideline. I know the schools are in charge of regular season games. However, the association will issue guidelines for the sidelines,”  Savarese said. 

“I know some schools have more guests on the field than others. Superintendents, principals, mayors, county commissioners and so on. Unfortunately, they will need to sit in the stands or other areas not on the field . . . remember, we are doing everything possible to play sports this fall,” Savarese said after I joked with him about Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller being on Opelika sidelines for 16 years.

Other changes include longer timeouts, so teams can clean and sanitize equipment and take care of other issues that may need attention.

I applaud AHSAA’s Steve Savarese and staff, ALSDE Dr Eric Mackey and staff, Dr James Robinson, Dr Jeffery Dugas, the coaches serving on the committees and all those involved trying to find a solution so we can have sports this fall.

No question, canceling fall sports would be detrimental to many schools and cities across Alabama. Football generates more money for schools than any other sport. Many programs can’t operate without income from football. Football is responsible for boosting the economy of many cities. The health and safety of student-athletes are more important than anything, but it would be good for everyone if allowed to play.

NFHS and AHSAA Partner to Provide 2-Free Pixellot Production Units for free

The AHSAA announced the NFHS Network will provide up to two pixellot automated production units for use in their primary sports venues. The program allows schools to stream live and on-demand high school sports and was created to assist schools schools facing revenue loss due to restricted attendance in light of COVID-19. The network allocated $200 million in capital for the nationwide project opened to eligible schools whose state high school association is a NFHS member. Alabama high schools qualify because of its membership,

“The NFHS Network is offering a remarkable opportunity for our schools that are currently without automated production capabilities. I encourage our eligible schools to sign up for the units immediately,” Savarese said.

The Opelika All-Sports Booster Club helped purchase the equipment from the NFHS Network in the first year. All of OHS football games have been live streamed for many years.

This year’s games will be aired on YouTube live and on 97.7 Kicker FM. Fans can watch YouTube live at no charge.

Opelika Superintendent Mark Neighbors has not announced if fans will be able to attend games in Bulldog Stadium. OHS sent a letter to season ticket holders explaining that no reserved seats will be sold. This will be the first time since Bulldog Stadium opened that fans will not have reserved seats. All seats will be general admission.

Stay tuned for details as we get closer to the season opener.



Opelika’s West Ridge Park is set to host the 2020 Dixie Boys State Tournament from July 17 to July 19.

There will be two divisions, 13U and 14U, playing for the championship and a trip to the Dixie Boys World Series in Sterlington, Louisiana, on Aug. 1 to 5.

Three Junior Dixie Boys (13U) teams, Opelika, Beehive and Fairhope, will compete in a round-robin tournament on Friday. The top two teams will play a best-of-three starting Saturday at 10:30 a.m. The “if necessary” game will be Sunday at noon. The schedule is below.

Friday, July 17

Opelika vs. Beehive at 4 p.m.

Fairhope vs. Beehive at 6:15 p.m.

Opelika vs. Fairhope at 8:30 p.m.

Four Dixie Boys (14U) teams will play in a double-elimination tournament beginning Friday at 5 p.m. The championship game is scheduled for Sunday at noon. That schedule is below.

Friday, July 17

Mudcats vs. Showstoppers at 5 p.m.

Fairhope vs. Opelika at 7:30 p.m.

Second round begins Saturday at 10:30 a.m.