If your favorite West Virginia high school football team plays one game this fall, consider yourself fortunate.
It’s not that everyone involved in that decision doesn’t want the 2020 fall football season to happen. Gov. Jim Justice wants it. The Secondary School Activities Commission wants it. Every county school board and every high school administration wants it. The football coaches sure want it.
They all know what playing those games means to each of the Mountain State’s communities. They know how those games can bring neighbors together. They know what those gatherings mean to so many school groups with the money they can raise from them. They know what athletics means to the students who play them. For some, it’s a reason to attend class and keep up their grades.
The problem is, COVID-19 doesn’t care about any of that.
The effects of the pandemic already are being felt around the country. The Virginia High School League has three proposals for the 2020-21 sports calendar on the table. None of them have football starting in the fall. One has football canceled outright. The Ohio High School Athletic Association said each school will decide which sports it will play this season. More than one nearby Ohio athletic program has halted summer workouts due to students testing positive for the virus.
The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, a Division II conference, announced this week it would not play sports in the fall. The Mountain East Conference, made up mostly of West Virginia Division II schools, said all options are in play, including moving fall sports to the spring semester.
West Virginia is doing everything it can to make sure that, when the first week of September rolls around, footballs are being booted into the air. But if you’re being honest with yourself, ask this question:
Do you really think COVID-19 won’t throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings?
Coronavirus positive cases shot up consistently from the start of June into July. Justice mandated masks to be worn in public places. Last week, the rate of spread in West Virginia was the highest in the United States.
If trends don’t change drastically for the better, people will get sick. When people get sick, teams will have to quarantine. Games will be canceled. So might seasons for some teams, which will throw schedules for other teams into total disarray.
And don’t look at Major League Baseball or the NBA as models here. They have the money to build bubbles and rent facilities and keep them spotless. Plenty of schools in West Virginia don’t, and they’re relying on their communities being responsible in dealing with the virus.
It will be a mess in the Mountain State if things don’t get better. A big one. And kids who had hoped to play the 2020 season will see that season abbreviated, maybe even obliterated.
The states around West Virginia are showing us what could happen if virus numbers don’t improve. As you can see, none of it is good. But there is a way to help those numbers get better.
Everyone, not just people involved in high school sports, need to follow whatever guidelines are out there. If that means wearing a mask, strap one on. If that means not crowding into bars shoulder to shoulder, don’t. None of this will guarantee a coronavirus-chaos-free fall sports season, but it will go a long way toward allowing it to happen.
In reality, folks likely will get sick, even if they do all they can to stay safe. That means the fall season would get spun around, no matter how hard the state government, the SSAC or its member schools work to keep it from happening.
So enjoy what fall sports you do get to see. It may not be as much as you want.