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Henry County called an audible, and got it right

Football coaches were in a panic. They were coming to the line of scrimmage to find a defense they didn't expect -- the Henry County school system.

Athletic directors were deployed. They were calling signals at the line of scrimmage to change the play so their team didn't have to suffer a critical, almost insurmountable blow.

And the Henry County Board of Education got off the audible just in time.

The panic was over two furlough days -- November 1-2 -- that just so happened to carry a great deal of inconvenience for high school football, for no activities were permitted on school sites those days. Not band. Not tutoring. Not football.

The panic was over where those days fell -- the Monday and Tuesday before the final regular season games -- for the playoff hopes of several teams could be on the line that Friday. Some could have a region title on the line. Some could have a first-round playoff game at home at stake. Some could have a playoff future, at all, in the balance.

Two less days to practice would deal county teams a serious disadvantage.

But, thanks to the Board of Education, county teams are back on a level playing field.

Just yesterday morning, incoming Superintendent Dr. Ethan Hildreth gave the word that teams would be allowed to practice on the two furlough days.

"The decision was made in the interest of the schools and student-athletes that they will be allowed to practice those two days," said Vicki Davis, the Henry County schools Athletic Service Liason. "Of course, it's not mandatory. Certainly not mandatory to the coach. They're strictly volunteering, because they are furlough days."

That's fine with coaches. Over the past week, coaches had spoken off the record, bewildered by the restriction against practicing that Monday and Tuesday. They practiced during fall break. Playoff teams often practice on Thanksgiving. Why was this different?

Credit the BOE for hearing the plea of athletic directors, coaches and surely some parents. It could have trumpeted some line about liability issues and held its ground. It could have said, 'Too late. What's done is done.'

Instead, the county supported its schools and their teams.

Consider what will likely be at stake November 5, the Friday that will follow the furlough days, the final Friday of the regular season.

No. 7-ranked Eagle's Landing Christian will likely play No. 2 Wesleyan for the Region 5-A title. Dutchtown could face Starr's Mill for the Region 3-AAAA title, depending on the outcome this Friday against Griffin.

Stockbridge will host defending state champion and No. 2-ranked (AAA) Sandy Creek, perhaps needing a win to secure its first playoff appearance since 1983. With two strong weeks, Union Grove could have its playoff hopes on the line. Henry County will be at Eastside in a game that should determine second place in Region 4-AAA.

All will play teams from other counties, teams that would have had the customary four days to prepare and strategize, to tweak and perfect.

Henry teams would have had just two. They would have had just Wednesday and Thursday, a day normally reserved for the "walk-through," when teams have a light practice, without pads, and go over the game-plan one last time before Friday.

Maybe ELCA, with all its offensive weapons, could have prevailed. Maybe Henry County, with its strong defense, could have survived. Maybe Union Grove, with a chance to erase a disappointing first half, could have found the motivation to prolong its season.

Maybe, but coaches said they were willing to sign wavers, foregoing pay and assuming responsibility of accidents, if it meant they could practice.

Tonight, county coaches sigh in relief, for they heard an audible called, and the BOE got it right.

Brian Paglia covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached via e-mail at bpaglia@news-daily.com.