The opening week of high school football games in West Virginia could be in doubt. At present, the start of preseason practice on Aug. 3 has definitely been delayed.
Along with Gov. Jim Justice’s Wednesday announcement setting Sept. 8 as the target date to resume in-person classes in all of the state’s counties came speculation that he may also cancel the first week of high school football. The season is set to kick off for most state teams the weekend of Aug. 27-29.
Justice seemed to indicate as much during his COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, following his announcement on delaying the opening of schools.
“If we can move the start date,’’ Justice said, “and push the start back of our high school football or our fall sports and everything to the Friday before, or maybe even the possibility of the Friday Friday before … and we will let you know more about that Friday of this week. We will work with the [Secondary School Activities Commission] as far as fall sports.’’
The Friday prior to the Sept. 8 target date for schools opening is the second weekend of high school football, Sept. 4-5. It was unclear if Justice meant the season might open as scheduled on Aug. 27, or that it couldn’t start until Sept. 4.
The possible cancellation of all opening-week games would place some of the state’s top rivalry matchups in doubt the weekend of Aug. 27-29 — games such as Bluefield at Graham, Virginia; Spring Valley at Cabell Midland; Man at Logan; Hurricane at Winfield; Nitro at Poca; Wyoming East at Westside; Mingo Central at Belfry, Kentucky; Oak Glen at Weir; Liberty Raleigh at Independence and Wayne at Tolsia.
Bernie Dolan, executive director of the SSAC, said his office is working with Justice and Clayton Burch, the state superintendent of schools, on a plan to address just when sports can hold regular practices and, ultimately, play games. Dolan, however, said Wednesday evening that ordinary preseason football practice will not start on Aug. 3 as originally scheduled.
“At this point,’’ Dolan said, “we’re going to let the three-week window play out and just follow the guidelines [already set]. And whenever we say we’re going to pick it up again, then we’ll practice again. I would say after this three-week window, we’ll go back to a conditioning phase before practice can begin.’’
Currently, schools in most counties are taking part in Phase 3 of the SSAC’s comeback plan for statewide athletics — the standard three-week summer practice period that was first instituted in 2003. A majority of counties opted for June 6-25 for their three-week period this summer due to COVID-19 concerns.
Live contact between athletes is not permitted during Phase 3 and schools cannot have their athletes practice against athletes from other schools. High school and middle school sports were shut down across West Virginia on March 12 by the coronavirus pandemic.
Dolan expects announcements to come later this week to clear up some of the current uncertainty.
“We’re putting together a plan and submitting it [to the governor’s office] according to what we know,’’ Dolan said. “We want both he and Superintendent Burch to be on board with what we’re proposing. We’ll work on that [Thursday] and see what it looks like.
“You make plans a couple weeks out and you’re hoping your [COVID-19] numbers go down, but they’re actually going up.’’