Even a little glimmer of good news was short-lived this week for Kanawha Valley football teams.
On Tuesday, a change in the state’s COVID-19 color map had Putnam County teams practicing in full and scheduling games against each other for this weekend. Kanawha County teams also got a small boost the same day when a clarification on what is permitted for practices in orange counties gave them more freedom in their workouts.
But all that optimism lasted less than 24 hours. A big jump in the daily numbers sent Putnam into the orange category Wednesday and Kanawha into the red, meaning those two Putnam games scheduled for Friday — Hurricane at Poca and Winfield at Buffalo — were now off the board, while practices for Kanawha schools came to a complete halt.
None of Kanawha County’s eight football teams have played a game this season, while three of Putnam’s four schools have played a single game. Winfield, which was set to play one of those inactive Kanawha teams — Herbert Hoover — during the opening week, missed its lone opportunity so far.
Generals coach Craig Snyder noted how the emotions of players and others connected to his program soared at first this week, then slumped the following day when the COVID-19 numbers rose and Putnam made the decision to return to remote learning.
“We were super optimistic,’’ Snyder said, “when our county made the big change to gold [where games are allowed], then there was the big jump in our numbers. We thought we were going back to in-person teaching, then things changed really rapidly and the decision was made [for remote learning].
“It’s disappointing for my kids, it’s disappointing for me as a teacher and a coach and I can’t emphasize that enough. Personally, I want my kids in my classroom whenever it’s deemed to be safe. The guys are frustrated because it’s been a rapid change. I can’t believe how many teams we’ve scheduled and rescheduled already and [haven’t played].’’
Winfield’s original schedule had games against Hurricane, Hoover, Chapmanville and Wayne the first four weeks and those were all called off by high COVID-19 counts, as were replacement games against Wheeling Central, Sissonville and now Buffalo.
The Generals, at least, are closer to playing a real game than their counterparts in Kanawha County, and they are still able to practice.
St. Albans coach Nick Watts went through his program’s progressions this week. On Monday, he gave his players the day off because no game was scheduled and Kanawha teams were under their first day of new regulations for orange counties, limiting their workouts. On Tuesday, the Red Dragons lifted weights and ran, but later that day the school received an email from the Secondary School Activities Commission’s Bernie Dolan spelling out that orange counties were actually able to do more than just condition, as previously thought. They could also wear equipment and use footballs and do sports-specific drills, but no scrimmaging or live face-to-face contact.
So Wednesday morning, the coaches were prepared to have the players put on the pads and do actual drills, but when Kanawha’s risk status went from orange to red, everything shut down completely.
“It’s hard. It’s difficult, especially for the kids,’’ Watt said. “For coaches — I know at least for me it rings true — most guys by nature are control freaks. We want things the way we want them. I’m a huge routine person. I like to get in routines and follow the routine, and I don’t like things that throw me out of that.
“We try to make schedules and try to keep that routine going. But from day to day, week to week, you’re not sure what you’re going to be doing or allowed to be doing. That makes it really hard. I’ve talked to my coaches and from our standpoint, we’ll just have to control what we can control, roll with what we can, adjust our schedules how we can.
“For our kids, we’ve been constantly preaching that it’s likely we’ll play at some point this year — we just don’t know when that is. The only thing we can control is their work ethic and their mindset and try to remain focused on being football players and students. Some guys are having a hard time navigating this stuff because it’s all new territory.’’
Snyder said he’s concerned about his players’ psyches, too, now that they’re in their fifth week of practice without playing a game.
“I have been worried about them the last couple weeks,’’ Snyder said. “Every week’s a roller coaster. They’re optimistic and you try to build on that optimism. Now it’s just up and down ... and they’ve been out there a lot without having a football game.
“This is all causing divisiveness. People are protesting, some people are upset that some people aren’t protesting, some people are upset that there are protests. It’s a shame we’re in a position where there’s divisiveness about everything. Even though I want to play football, it’s all about the kids and not playing sports.’’
Watts doesn’t want his players to lose hope that their season won’t ever start.
“Right now,’’ he said, “it’s important to give our guys some time away because they’re stressed out: Are we doing this work for nothing? Maybe if we stay red for a while, it gives them perspective on what it’s like to not be doing football, and they’ll come back with more desire to do things.
“We can’t afford to think in a negative way with this thing. The whole thing is negative enough, and I’m not a negative person by nature. I try to remain positive through all this with our guys. I can’t really think about what if we don’t get to play.’’