Certainly, some people were disappointed when the Friday Night Rivals North-South All-Star Football Classic announced Wednesday that it had to postpone the 67th installment of its game until July 10, pending approval from state and local authorities because of the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s because the state’s eight-week-long-and-counting void of anything resembling an athletic event just got longer. The original date for the summertime contest had been June 13 at South Charleston High School, but that wasn’t going to float as West Virginia and the rest of the country recover from COVID-19.
But when you take a closer look, it’s extremely fortunate that the North-South game still looms and isn’t doomed.
A short Google search produced at least nine other long-running high school all-star football games in our region of the country that had already been wiped out in the last month.
This week alone, three more were canceled — the 27th Battle Against Cystic Fibrosis Classic (Ohio against West Virginia), set for June 5 at St. Marys; the 30th Northwest Ohio Regional game, scheduled for June 19 in Perrysburg; and the 50th Lehigh Valley All-Star Classic, set for June 11 in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
Last week, the casualties included the 75th Rudy Mumley Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Classic (July 25 at Wheeling Island Stadium). Others going down the drain in the last month were the 64th Big 33 Classic, a prestigious contest near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; the 54th Indiana All-Star Game; the 43rd Times-Reporter Charity Game in New Philadelphia, Ohio; the 41st Penn-Ohio Classic in New Middletown, Ohio; and the 38th Michigan East-West Game in University Center.
So to even remain on the radar at this point seems to be a feather in the cap for the North-South game.
Curious about the trend of neighboring states to call off summer football games, the Gazette-Mail contacted the National Federation of State High School Associations, the Indianapolis-based body that writes the rules of competition for most high school sports in the country.
We asked: Has the NFHS put out any guidance yet on summer activities for football while dealing with COVID-19? What is the federation’s opinion on holding summer sporting events, especially for football?
The response we received was rather non-committal.
“The 51 member state associations of the NFHS [50 states plus the District of Columbia] are autonomous,’’ the statement said, “and have their own guidelines, rules and regulations regarding summer competition.’’
At this point, some fans in our state might even ask: “Why risk playing the game at all? Why not just wait until next year? We’ll get our football fix in August when the season starts.’’
Well, the answer is manyfold.
North-South officials realize what the game means to their players, especially this year when some winter and spring sports athletes didn’t get to end — or even begin — their senior seasons. For several players still looking to latch onto a college program, it gives them one more chance to catch the eye of a recruiter. For others, it probably marks the final football game they’ll ever play as they move on to college or the work force.
Also, a dozen $600 college scholarships are handed out by the game, which is sponsored by the West Virginia Schools Athletic Coaches Association and WCHS-TV 8/Fox 11. That’s a noble cause in any year.
But if the game isn’t played, then no revenue is generated from ticket sales or T-shirt sales. Some sponsors, rightfully, won’t want to pony up money if they don’t get any publicity, and the North-South is all about sponsors. One year, the line of sponsors introduced before the game was so long that kickoff was delayed by nearly a half hour.
No money flow for a year might hurt the game’s future status. So it’s important in many ways for the game to be held, even if the delay means losing some of the players who’d already committed because of their prior plans for July.
Interestingly, the week now set aside for North-South football — the players are scheduled to report to South Charleston on July 6 for four days of pregame camp — matches what could be the first week of the SSAC’s approved three-week summer practice period for local counties.
On Thursday, Kanawha County officially opted for the July 6-25 dates, while Putnam and Cabell counties are leaning toward the same time frame for holding their summer practices so that they have nearby competition to practice against. Individual counties are permitted to choose their own three-week segments in the summer, as long as they block out the Fourth of July week.
The traditional start of the three-week period would fall on June 8 this year, but most schools are considering later dates because of COVID-19. The latest dates available are July 13-Aug. 1, but that runs teams right up into their preseason workouts for several sports, including football, that are scheduled to begin on Monday, Aug. 3.
Another item to consider with the postponement of the North-South football game is how fit will players be upon reporting for practice on July 6?
By that time, most of them will have been in workout limbo for nearly four months. Not only have their respective school facilities been closed since the middle of March, but also local gyms and fitness centers. The athletes have been left to their own devices to stay fit, which prompts some concern.
“How in shape are these kids from where they used to be?’’ said Tony Mazelon, father of George Washington All-State receiver Alex Mazelon, a member of the South roster.
“Are we introducing higher risk of getting hurt? Alex has been somewhat active, working out and doing some things, but to play at the level he played before, he’s got to work out more.’’
North-South game director Bob Mullett was asked if the unusual kickoff time — 1 p.m. on Friday, July 10 — might hurt attendance.
“With it being summer, I hope not,’’ he said, “but we may look at the [start] time again.’’
One of the reasons to go with the above kickoff time, Mullett said, was to give the North-South Basketball Classic the possibility of an evening time slot on Friday, July 10. The sponsor of that game, the West Virginia Athletic Directors Association, is presently considering a 7:30 p.m. start on either Thursday, July 9 or Friday, July 10.