As if Kanawha Valley athletic programs didn’t have enough bad news stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, now some of them are worried about getting their reconditioned football equipment back in time for practice.
Normally by mid-May, area schools that send their helmets and shoulder pads to Riddell for reconditioning and recertification have already gotten their equipment back, usually in plenty of time for the start of the Secondary School Activities Commission’s three-week summer practice period in early June.
However, those orders were delayed this year, as one of Riddell’s main plants — the one in North Ridgeville, Ohio — was closed for four weeks (March 23-April 20) due to mandates from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine regarding COVID-19.
The majority of West Virginia high school equipment handled by Riddell goes through that North Ridgeville facility, which was concerning news for seven of the Kanawha Valley’s 12 prep football teams that had accounts with Riddell this year.
Those schools included Buffalo, Capital, Hurricane, Nitro, Poca, St. Albans and Winfield. The orders for Buffalo and Nitro included just their helmets, but the others sent both helmets and shoulder pads. Capital’s order included about 85 helmets and 75 sets of shoulder pads.
In fact, the situation was looking a bit dire a few weeks ago, considering that Riddell’s North Ridgeville plant was originally only supposed to close for two weeks, reopening on April 6, according to a report in The Chronicle-News of Elyria, Ohio. That closing eventually doubled to four weeks.
But the outlook has since improved at both ends of the equation.
First, Riddell, the largest reconditioner of football equipment in the world, is hopeful of resuming full operations, according to Erin Griffin, vice president of marketing and communications.
“As of this week,’’ Griffin said, “Riddell’s three main reconditioning facilities are open and completing reconditioning orders. Based on our current projections, Riddell is optimistic we can return equipment to football programs on time.’’
Second, the start of the three-week practice period has also been pushed back, giving Riddell more time to process orders. Schools in Kanawha and Putnam counties opted for the July 6-25 period, as individual counties in West Virginia are able to select their own three-week time slots.
That’s encouraging because many local coaches prefer to have players wear helmets as much as they can during organized practices.
“When we start practice,’’ said George Washington coach Steve Edwards, “we like to get our helmets on, especially when we’re doing some drills. We like to get used to wearing helmets, catching the ball and running around. It’s a little bit different, and also it’s for protection.’’
For several years, the Patriots have been one of the Kanawha Valley’s most ardent supporters of 7-on-7 passing drills and games, often going outside the state to compete during the three-week practice period.
Jon Carpenter, Capital’s coach, said he thinks his team could make it through the three-week period even if further delays resulted in helmets not being available at the start of July.
“You could survive,’’ Carpenter said. “I don’t think it’s hard to play 7-on-7 games [without helmets].
“I’d like to hear somebody say we’re going to have — or not have — our equipment back on Aug. 1 before I worry about any of it.’’
Riddell certainly takes its business seriously, as its helmet reconditioning process consists of 20 steps. Every year, it recertifies a majority of football helmets in the marketplace, more than 1 million from youth to pro levels.
There were rumors that Riddell, which also provides helmets for the NFL and the NCAA, might complete its orders with those accounts before filling those of high schools and middle schools, which also utilize the three-week summer practice period. Griffin downplayed that notion.
“Riddell utilizes a multi-faceted process when prioritizing reconditioning orders,’’ she said, “and considers several factors, including date of receipt, anticipated start of the season, desired delivery timing, and complexity of the order, among others. This approach applies to customers at all levels.’’
Obviously, in these days of the coronavirus, it wouldn’t be a surprise if changing situations caused unforeseen delays. But for now, even if teams have to cut back on some of the drills and competitions their players favor — such as the 7-on-7s — because equipment is being held up, Edwards doesn’t think it will be difficult to keep them interested during the three-week summer practice period.
“It’s a pain in the neck when you don’t have all your stuff,’’ Edwards said, “[but] my hope is that they’ve been pent up for so long that they’ll do whatever we want them to do, and as much as we can. I hope they’re ready for it. I know I am.’’