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Tug Valley Coach Hady Ford

Tug Valley football coach Hady Ford talks to receiver Caleb May during a game last season.

One thing perhaps lost in the shuffle regarding teams in red and orange counties being included in this year’s state football playoffs is that teams in those counties aren’t able to hold normal practices.

In red counties like Mingo and Mineral, in fact, they can’t hold practice at all. Even now, for their most important games of the season.

The absurdity of the situation hasn’t been lost on Tug Valley coach Hady Ford, who has been trying to keep his program together for more than five weeks as Mingo County battles high COVID-19 numbers. Those numbers, it seems, have trumped anything the unbeaten Panthers have done on the field in going 3-0 and rising to the No. 1 seed in the Class A playoffs.

They’ve only managed to play three times because of state guidelines that limit in-person classes and school activities in counties that are designated red (highest risk) or orange on the weekly color-coded COVID map put out by the West Virginia Department of Education. And now, with a first-round home playoff game looming against No. 16 seed Tygarts Valley at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, the Panthers can’t hold organized practices all week and can’t have contact with their coaches. Ford said it’s not fair for his players.

“Absolutely not,’’ he said. “I was pretty much reprimanded [Monday] when I called for a meeting to let them know what’s going on. I get a phone call saying you can’t have a meeting, get everybody out of the building. So I can’t do anything with them.

“One thing I did tell them was, ‘Guys, you can do anything you want on your own. There’s an old grade school football field and you’ve got to get some kind of conditioning in this week. I can’t do it with you. Basically, it’s up to you to be ready for the game because I’m not allowed to do anything with you.’’’

Tug hasn’t played a game since Oct. 6, a 38-32 win against James Monroe, which came four days after a 22-12 victory against Logan as teams tried to jam in games when they could. Hady said that over the last five weeks, the team has been together for two days of conditioning-level work (when Mingo County was in orange status), but no days of real practice.

Still, if Mingo goes gold or better on Saturday’s WVDE map, the Panthers have to be ready to play. And not just any game, but a playoff game. Ford worries about the safety factor.

“There’s no logic in what they’re doing,’’ he said. “They’re putting kids in harm’s way. [During the season], they won’t let you do anything without at least two weeks of practice, so what kind of danger are we putting these kids in? They’re not going to be in shape, they’re not going to be football acclimated, they’re not even in a football mindset.

“If the kids can’t practice, then what are we doing? What’s the sense in any of this? You’re put in a situation where you can’t win. You can’t even have a meeting.’’

Ford instructed his players to go on the Hudl website to get a look at the game plan, but that’s about all he’s permitted to do.

If Mingo County doesn’t improve its status by Saturday, Tygarts Valley will advance unopposed. Ford wishes the situation were different.

“All we’re asking for is a chance,’’ he said, “and we’re not getting a chance. You get no preparation. They’re putting every handicap on you, throwing you out there and see what you can do. It’s ridiculous. This has to stop for other sports because you cannot do this through basketball or baseball or wrestling season. This can’t keep going on. They don’t realize what they’re doing to kids mentally. It’s tearing them to pieces. For lots of these kids, this is all they have.’’

Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.

Preps Sports Reporter