Tornado Athletics launches “SafeStart” task force in response to COVID-19

Tornado Athletics launches “SafeStart” task force in response to COVID-19

BRISTOL, Tenn. - King University director of athletics David Hicks has announced the creation of the "SafeStart" task force, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.

King extended spring break by one week in March, then transitioned to a distance learning format on March 26. By then, athletic seasons had been canceled by the NCAA and Conference Carolinas, and few students remained on the Bristol campus.

"We eagerly anticipate the day our student-athletes return to campus, and begin training and practicing together," said Hicks. "While there are a lot of uncertainties and unknowns related to COVID-19 and the immediate future, what we do know is that whenever athletic practices and competitions return, it will be under a different paradigm and set of expectations."

Head athletic trainer Mikki Oliver will chair the SafeStart task force, which also includes assistant AD and head baseball coach Blaine Brown, head men's and women's volleyball Coach Ryan Booher, head acrobatics & tumbling coach Miranda Merkison, head men's wrestling coach Deral Brown, and assistant AD for compliance Bart Walker.

The task force will be advised by King associate professor of nursing Amy Knowles, who earned a Ph.D. in Homeland Security and Global Health and a Master's in Public Health from the University of Tennessee.

"Dr. Knowles experience, education and knowledge base will provide valuable insight to the task force, as we determine the appropriate safety measures to implement to ensure the health and well-being of our student-athletes and staff," said Hicks. "I'm thankful for Dr. Knowles' willingness to serve our students and staff in this capacity."

The SafeStart task force will examine all aspects of King Athletics operations, including the athletic training room, weight room, and travel policies, as well as all aspects of practices and competition. The task force will rely on guidance from various governing bodies, including the CDC, NCAA, local health departments, and the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

"There are significant events in the world that alter the way we conduct our daily lives," said Hicks. "In my lifetime, two of those events are the emergence of AIDS and the tragedy of 9-11. The fallout from each of those events radically changed our perception of 'normal' in our daily lives, and altered how we go about our affairs on a daily basis."

"Our number one priority is always the safety and well-being of our student-athletes and staff," Hicks continued. "Whenever it is deemed appropriate to resume athletic participation, the SafeStart task force and their hard work will ensure that we are able to start training, practicing and competing in a manner that is safe for our student-athletes, staff, and spectators."

Preseason practices for fall sports are scheduled to begin at King on August 17, with the first permissible date of competition on September 3.