Essential reporting in volatile times.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.

Learn more about HD Media

Nitro football field new turf

Kanawha County football fields remained silent again on Friday night due to high COVID-19 counts, and will remain so this coming weekend.

Putnam County made a late run to be able to play sports next week, but fell short of the goal line. Kanawha County, meanwhile, took even more steps in the wrong direction.

When the state released its weekly color-coded map Saturday that rates the COVID-19 risk factor and determines in-person classes and school activities for each county the following week, the number of counties in the orange stood at seven — again including Kanawha and Putnam — and one (Monongalia) remained in red, the highest risk.

Besides Kanawha and Putnam, the orange counties are Boone, Fayette, Logan, Mingo and Monroe. Those counties cannot hold athletic events next week and — following a surprise change by Gov. Jim Justice on Friday — now cannot even hold sports-specific or contact practices. Strength and conditioning workouts are all that’s allowed. Red counties also have no in-person school, and no workouts of any kind.

The Saturday count KO’d a possible Putnam County football showdown on Monday pitting Class AAA Hurricane against Class AA Poca, one of eight statewide games tentatively set for Monday. That matchup was contingent on Putnam returning to yellow status on the map, which looked favorable last week when it posted four straight days of lower COVID-19 numbers, but ultimately didn’t work out. Kanawha, on the other hand, had one of its highest numbers to end the week, and could be inching toward red status.

Interestingly, five counties that were listed in orange on Saturday morning’s map — the Department of Health and Human Services’ County Alert Map — were in yellow at 5 p.m. Saturday on the weekly Department of Education’s School Alert System Map, which is the one that determines school activities. The two maps have different cutoff times for their data. The counties making the cut to yellow were Cabell, Calhoun, Ohio, Pocahontas and Wayne.

Justice’s office said the Secondary School Activities Commission will release additional guidance documents soon, but his Friday ruling about limiting practices to mere conditioning sessions — as it was statewide most of the summer — seemed to sap some of the resolve out of Kanawha County football teams, who have yet to play a single game.

“It’s been tough as it is,’’ said George Washington coach Steve Edwards Jr., “but when I broke that to them [Friday], it didn’t go over well. It’s hard to explain to the kids. We’re going in backwards, and all we’ve been doing is the right things. ... We’re still healthy, and now we’ve got to go in reverse. I don’t know how to explain it to them. I don’t exactly know the wording.

“We’ve been doing things in good faith, doing everything we need to be doing, telling them the right things. And now all of a sudden, we’re getting penalized again.’’

Edwards, who’s in his 25th season as coach of the Patriots, said his players’ mental approach has been good so far, but it took a hit on Friday when practices were downgraded to conditioning.

“The kids have been great, they’ve been super,’’ Edwards said. “They just want to get back in school and play. They’re willing to play with no fans. But the whole thing is wearing on them, and it’s not good.

“We’re still orange, and the kids have accepted that. We’re still practicing, so we still have a chance [of playing games]. Then we told them when we come back Monday, it’s going to be like the summer. I wish I’d videoed it. Wow, it was a crazy reaction. It even took me by surprise. I knew they’d be disappointed, but I didn’t know it would be that. We had to talk to them for five minutes that it’s not the end of the world. We’re not stopping.’’

South Charleston coach Donnie Mays said his team didn’t practice Friday, so he hasn’t had a chance to tell his all his players face-to-face about the new workout regulations. But he’s concerned about where the Black Eagles go from here.

“As a coach, you always worry about things you can control,’’ Mays said. “Whenever you have that Friday night game to dangle in front of them, [it helps]. When you don’t have that, things are kind of out of your control. It’s a lot more difficult to keep their attention. You have to be creative with your approach and keep practicing to keep the kids engaged, and that’s difficult.

“We’ve done everything they’ve asked — wore masks, social distanced, broke them into pods in June practice, did the part where you go into pads. We spent money on splash shields [for helmets] and neck gaiters — everything they told us to do. But because the community’s not following guidelines and the numbers increase, the kids are paying the price.’’

Mays, like many coaches, wonders about the restrictions being put on school sports while other youth activities are permitted to proceed.

“It’s one thing to try and shut kids down, but they’re going to find a way to do things they want to do anyway. You see travel ball and circuits picking up — having all those things — baseball, softball and even soccer. I went by Shawnee Park the other day and they had a bunch of people up there. That stuff is going on and hasn’t stopped. Either we’re in a pandemic or not, and if we are, we have to treat it like we did before and stop everything.

“It’s just an attack on the kids; that’s all there is to it. It’s a shame it’s being done like this. I don’t understand why they don’t create a true color system that applies to each school. When a school situation gets bad, they need to shut it down individually. Kanawha County is such a huge county that some things that happen in one end of the county can be completely different in the other. To all be in the same boat is unfortunate.’’

Edwards said he’ll participate in a protest planned for 10 a.m. Monday at the State Capitol.

“Darn right I am,’’ he said. “It’s time to take a stand. We have to do something. ... We need as many people to get there as we can. I’m not going to be standing alone. It’s not just football — it’s soccer, volleyball, cross country, golf.’’

Edwards said the thought of simply giving up and accepting the possibility of no games this season hasn’t crossed his mind.

“No way,’’ he said. “That makes it too easy for them. I’m not going to quit. They’re going to have to come and tell us. We’re not going to quit. That’s not even in my vocabulary. I asked the kids and they said, ‘Heck yeah, coach, we ain’t quitting.’ I told them to hang in there, and do what we’re going to do.’

“Steve Edwards Sr. [his late father] would roll over if he heard I was going to quit. I’d be struck with lightning.’’

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