An outbreak of influenza has been making the rounds in Columbia County, but the impact on local high school athletes has been minimal.
Jimmie Lewis thinks sports has helped keep the bug at bay.
"Athletes are in better shape and in better health," Harlem High's athletic director said. "Athletes are a tough bunch. They don't want to let this sickness jump on them."
Lewis may have a point. While flu-related absences have skyrocketed recently at area schools, Columbia County's prep squads seemed to have weathered the storm.
"We've had one or two (athletes) out, but none of the coaches have come up to me and said they didn't have enough people to play," Evans athletic director Gail Connor said.
Greenbrier's athletes also have dodged the flu so far.
"I guess we've been very fortunate," said Mickey Derrick, the Wolfpack's athletic director. "We've had a few out, but I could count them on one hand."
There have been several instances that show local athletes aren't immune.
"When (the flu) first showed up, Jon Rickerson came to school and he looked awful," Harlem basketball coach Kim Chambers said of the sophomore player.
"He had a temperature and I told him to go home, but he said, 'I want to play in the game tonight."'
Rickerson managed to stay at school and eventually suited up for the game.
Columbia County public school policy requires students to attend at least a half day of class in order to participate in athletic events that day.
Lewis admits that policy presents a dilemma - a sick athlete might attend school just to play sports, but then he might pass the illness to others.
"It's a 'Catch 22.' If he comes in sick, he might get others sick, but he's showing some physical and mental toughness," Lewis says. "I remember when Michael Jordan was sick with the flu, then went out and scored 63 points that night. If you love the game, you'll put forth an effort to play."
But love of the game isn't always enough to shake off the flu.
At Augusta Christian, the flu forced the cancellation of a "B" team girls basketball game Jan. 24, and there also were some problems at the varsity level.
Mark Herrmann was stricken ill and missed AC's game at George Walton Academy, and the timing couldn't have been worse - the Jan. 24 contest was a key region game against the two-time defending state champions. The Lions lost by four points.
"We had some kids out, but it looks like the tide is turning," said Bruce Lane, Augusta Christian athletic director. "Hopefully, our bout with it has about ended."
Augusta Preparatory Day School athletic director Tom Holodak says his school hasn't been hit hard by the outbreak, but Prep may not be out of the woods yet.
"Some of the boys looked under the weather at last Saturday's basketball game," he said. "The bad thing is, this is not something you kick in a day or two, and every region game is so important at this time of the season."
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