Cyclones' Witten has empathy for teams who are missing out

Douglas Fritz • Mar 21, 2020 at 12:00 PM

Basketball coaches and their spring counterparts have a source of empathy for their current situations.

Elizabethton football coach Shawn Witten said he feels for all of the coaches who had their seasons interrupted just a couple of months after his team earned the school’s first state championship in 81 years. Had the novel coronavirus hit a few months sooner, it could have prevented the Cyclones’ march to history.

“I thought about that,” said Witten. “You just really feel for those teams, especially like Sullivan South’s basketball team.

“For anybody, it’s not like every year you get there. It could really be your last hope to do so. You just feel for those kids and coaches. I can only imagine.”

Witten said he realizes football will likely be impacted by the national health emergency as well.

“Most of the programs have offseason weight training,” he said. “And a lot of this time for football coaches is where you really build relationships. You kind of separate the kids who want to be in the weight room versus the ones who don’t. You want to help the kids see results and build confidence.

“A lot of the kids are working on their own, but it’s hard to hold them accountable because of what is going on.”

Spring practice is one of the first things that could be affected by this situation.

“Spring practice is where you get an opportunity to work with younger guys,” Witten said. “And this could possibly impact summer preparation. Without summer preparation, it’s hard to have a good season. You have to teach skills, especially with the incoming ninth graders. And there are safety precautions, too. You don’t just go out there and throw the ninth graders into the fire.”

Depending on the timing, would the TSSAA consider modifying the dead-weeks period — set this year for June 21 to July 5 — to allow football teams to better prepare for the 2020 season?

“The dead weeks help families set vacations and mission trips and church trips, but those may be canceled,” said Witten. “So I guess the TSSAA would look into it.”

TSSAA assistant executive director Matthew Gillespie said any decisions about the dead period would require Board of Control action, and nothing has been presented to the board at this time.


Witten talked about younger brother Jason, the former Dallas tight end who agreed this week to a deal with the Las Vegas Raiders.

“It was definitely shocking,” said Shawn. “It’s hard to picture him on any other team than the (Dallas) Cowboys, but I guess he still has something to prove.

“When he went back to the Cowboys (last season), they had the right pieces and had a chance to be pretty successful. He hoped to go out with a bang.”

But the Cowboys went 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

Jason’s decision means he won’t end his career as a one-team player.

“There are only so many people who get to play with one team,” said Shawn. “But it had to be a perfect fit for him. (Former Dallas coach) Jason Garrett had a blue-collar system, and (Raiders’ coach) Jon Gruden is an old-school coach.”

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