The North-South football game, scheduled for noon on Friday, July 10 at South Charleston, was canceled on Wednesday due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Also, the North-South basketball game, which was looking at either a July 10 or 11 playing date, was also called off on Wednesday.
The football series began in 1934 with a break from 1956 through 1975. This will be the first year the game has not been held since 1975.
North Marion coach Daran Hays, scheduled to lead the North this year, was filled with disappointment when the news came down.
“I got a hold of most the kids already, sent them all text messages and called the ones that had questions, but I guess we’re out,” Hays said. “I felt awful calling the kids. This group of kids have had so much taken from them. And you felt like you were throwing a bone to those kids and a lot of them were really looking forward to it. The number one question I got from most of them was, ‘Can I still buy a jersey, so at least I have a memento?’”
The game’s cancellation comes as yet another blow to the Class of 2020. Basketball seasons were halted with boys either through or in the regional final round and the girls in state tournament quarterfinals. Then spring sports were wiped out completely.
Along the way, proms and graduation ceremonies were also scrapped. Hays and South coach Ray Lee of Greenbrier East voiced most of their disappointment for the players.
“I feel bad for the 2020 seniors, not just in football but throughout the entire school year,” Lee said. “These young people have missed out on everything that should be fun as seniors.
“It’s something these guys look forward to and work their tails off all year long, and to not get to participate in a game like this, they’ll never get this back. As a coach, we may get to coach again, but they may never get to experience that again. My disappointment is more for them than myself.”
While both coaches put the players first, each admitted the game was a personal goal as well, one that will have to wait until another year.
“This is one of those bucket list things, I always wanted to coach in this game and be a part of it,” Hays said. “But I also looked at it as a springboard maybe for the state to start getting back to normal. If we were able to pull it off and have 2,000 people come and watch a football game and, God willing, everybody leave and leave healthy, then maybe people may stop worrying about the sky falling.”
“I took a player down one year and dropped him off and watched the game and it was exciting to me,” Lee added. “I wrote down on a goal sheet that I would like to participate in this as an assistant or head coach one day. Unfortunately, we won’t get to explore that this year.”
North-South football game director Bob Mullett declined to comment, instead deferring to the West Virginia Schools Athletic Coaches Association. Charlie Maynard, executive secretary of the WVSACA, also declined to comment.
The North-South Basketball Classic still had hopes of playing at the South Charleston Community Center, but Art Petitto, one of the game’s directors, said those plans changed late Wednesday.
“Because of the uncertainty,’’ Petitto said, “especially being an inside event, we are canceled. We don’t think that we can ensure the safety of all involved. We plan to send the programs and shirts to the players and coaches.’’
Players in the basketball game typically arrived in town the day before the game and had two practice sessions, one on the evening they arrive and another the following morning. The game is sponsored by the West Virginia Athletic Directors Association.
The basketball series was revived in 1983 after a layoff and hadn’t missed a year since. The North won last year 171-141, setting a record for points, but trails in the series 29-8 since its resumption.