The Friday Night Rivals North-South Football Classic has postponed its projected playing date, but remains hopeful of holding the game despite coronavirus concerns.
The annual summertime all-star game is tentatively moving to Friday, July 10 at South Charleston High School with a 1 p.m. kickoff. It had originally been scheduled for Saturday, June 13 at SC High School.
Game director Bob Mullett on Wednesday said he’s working closely with state and local officials to keep hope alive for playing the game as West Virginia and the rest of the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Mullett said everything is contingent upon following Gov. Jim Justice’s guidelines for reopening the state.
“We’re following the leadership from the county and the state government,’’ Mullett said, “and we’re not being presumptuous on it being opened up. I understand that. Everything depends on the clipping of the coronavirus.
“We’re still holding our breath that there’s no increases and that this levels off in West Virginia and around the country and that everybody deems it safe. Whatever phase we’re in of the governor’s plans, if we’re allowed to have our game, we’re going to have it. If he opens it up, we’re 100 percent sure we want to have the game.’’
Dr. Sherri Young, health officer of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said her agency will monitor the situation as it relates to the game.
“Right now, it’s a little too far ahead of time,’’ Young said. “With North-South, you’re having people from all over the state come in. We want to make sure we’re not seeing an uptick in other areas as well as in our area. July seems close, but it’s very, very far away in terms of the pandemic, so we’ll keep an eye on that.”
Postponing the game four weeks will cause a lot of alterations for Mullett and the North-South staff.
With the dormitories at West Virginia State unavailable due to the Institute campus being closed this summer, players will be housed at the South Charleston Holiday Inn and shuttled to practice sites at Little Creek Park and Oakes Field, which are also both in South Charleston. Mullett said athletes are expected to check in on Monday, July 6 and have four days of practice before playing the game. In past years, teams practiced five days.
Mullett said the 1 p.m. kickoff time on Friday was chosen so that the North-South basketball game could possibly be played that same evening at the South Charleston Community Center. Previously, the basketball game was set for June 12, and has traditionally been played the day before the football contest. North-South basketball officials on Wednesday said they also plan to move their game to July but were still looking at the possibility of playing either Thursday, July 9 or Friday, July 10, most likely at 7:30 p.m.
Another potential move is the game site, since South Charleston High School’s field is scheduled to be fitted with artificial turf. Mullett said his staff is looking into “three or four other places’’ as alternate game sites in case SC’s field isn’t ready.
“From things I’ve heard this morning, they are going to expedite our turf install,’’ said SC Athletic Director Bryce Casto, “with the plan for our field to be ready by July 10. This has been moving fast today and I’m certain is subject to modification.’’
Parents of some players set to compete in the game had different reactions to the news that the North-South contest is going forward.
“I do have some hesitation,’’ said Tony Mazelon, father of George Washington receiver Alex Mazelon, who is on the South roster, “simply based upon the lack of medical understanding and looking at the statistics we have. Because we’re flooded with a lot of information, which is hard to discern the accuracy of it.
“The seniors have lost so much of their final year and their final semester and this one particular event, if we can pull it off, would be nice. I would obviously love to watch him play and document it as his last football game. As his parent, I get great joy out of that. I love to see him play, but I hesitate at this point in time because it’s a little early to make the decision [to play the game].’’
Jocelyne Calloway, mother of Capital running back Tay Calloway, another player on the South roster, also has concerns, but is less hesitant to give her blessing for her son to play. Tay Calloway has yet to decide on a college and was hoping the game would get him some late looks from recruiters.
“I’m actually pretty excited about him playing,’’ Jocelyne Calloway said. “It’s a good opportunity for him, and another opportunity for schools to look at him and see if he can get an offer. I’m his No. 1 fan.
“I hate that we’re going through what we’re going through right now, but other than that, I think it should be fine by July. June was kind of soon for me. I guess you’ve got to go with the flow.’’
Mullett said North-South officials are willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to ensure safety of the players and still follow social-distancing guidelines.
“We’ll put the kids two to a room in the hotel,’’ Mullett said. “We won’t have meetings in clumped-up rooms. We’ll have chairs all spread out. We’ll encourage hand washing. When we eat lunch, we’ll do one team at 11 and one at 11:30. There are a lot of things we can do to separate groups.
“People can call me crazy, but we can do it. We’ll make a great effort. We’ll take every safety precaution on the governor’s mandates as we can. We can hand out face masks. We’re willing to do anything anybody can suggest to minimize anything. We want the kids to have a chance to do something this year. We want to recognize these kids and we want to give out our scholarships.’’
The game was originally scheduled to be televised live by WCHS-TV 8, but there’s been no word if changes will affect those plans.
Mullett realizes the amount of work it will take to get clearance to play the game and get the logistics handled, but thinks it’s worth the effort and thinks his staff can drum up the community support.
“A lot of people are being proactive,’’ Mullett said. “They want kids to have something to look forward to, and want to be a part of it. But it all hinges on the governor and the health department opening up everything.’’