For now, Kanawha County coaches and athletes won’t be getting back together Monday when the Secondary School Activities Commission’s statewide comeback plan opens with Phase 1.
During a meeting Wednesday of Kanawha County high school principals, the principals agreed to let the Kanawha County Board of Education decide at its next meeting when schools could begin limited workout sessions that follow strict guidelines, which is Phase 1 of the SSAC’s three-tiered plan to get athletics programs back on track after three months of inactivity due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The only problem is that Phase 1 of the plan is set for June 8-19 and the county school board wasn't supposed to meet again until June 18, meaning Kanawha athletes will potentially miss several days of workouts.
Each county school board must approve the SSAC’s recommendations before practices can begin. Most counties appear ready to give the green light for Monday’s sessions, but Kanawha hasn't gotten in position to do so at this time.
“Our Board members will meet June 18 and make a decision on what we are allowed or not allowed to do,’’ said Mark Milam, Kanawha County Schools assistant superintendent, in an email Wednesday afternoon. “So until then, nothing can take place.’’
If Kanawha schools aren’t permitted to begin until after the June 18 Board meeting, they’ll be at least 10 days behind several other counties.
“Nobody is eliminating Phase 1,’’ said Briana Warner, Kanawha County Schools communications director. “They’re just waiting until June 18 to approve the phases, including 1.’’
Later Wednesday, Board member Ric Cavender requested that Superintendent Ron Duerring call a special meeting to discuss the matter. The meeting is set for 1:30 p.m. on June 10, which could expedite the approval process.
In Putnam County, there appear to be no such delays. Winfield athletic director Will Isaacs said schools have to submit workout plans to the board for approval Thursday. If the plans meet the SSAC guidelines, they are expected to be approved.
Cabell County’s Board of Education administrators are holding a virtual meeting on Thursday to make sure all their coaches understand the SSAC guidelines, according to Cabell Midland athletic director Chris Parsons. If all goes well there, they also anticipate a June 8 start on Phase 1.
Phase 1 of the SSAC plan calls for coaches and players to meet outdoors in groups of no more than 10 for one hour per day, basically for strength and conditioning, with no sports-specific activities permitted. Face masks, disinfectants and hand sanitizer are recommended for athletes and adults.
In Phase 2, set for June 22-July 3, pods of 25 or more can meet for two hours at a time, again mostly for strength, conditioning and agility work. Phase 3 encompasses the county’s traditional three-week summer practice period. Most counties around the state have opted for July 6-25, including Kanawha, Putnam, Jackson and Logan. Cabell and Mingo chose July 13-31.
The three-week period leads schools right up to the start of preseason practice for fall sports, which is scheduled for Aug. 3 for football, soccer, cross country and golf.
So if Kanawha starts later than other counties, it might not get the full impact of the SSAC plan.
“Our intent was never to make sure everybody did all three phases,’’ said Bernie Dolan, the SSAC’s executive director. “Some schools might only do one day a week, some two, and others go three or four. I imagine if you’re in a fall sport, you’re probably doing at least three days.’’
Counties like Kanawha that might get a later start would probably adjust their agendas for the three-week period, Dolan said.
“So that might give them less time to condition,’’ he said, “which means if kids aren’t in condition come Phase 3, they’ll spend more time in the three-week period getting kids conditioned rather than running plays.
“Our intent with the guidelines was to guide schools and coaches into having a reasonable return to play, recognizing that the kids have been out for three months without really any activity.’’
Sissonville football coach Marc Wilson said he’d done some preliminary work on his team’s game plan for a June 8 start.
“Our principal asked us to put together a plan,’’ he said, “basically how we were going to work the pods and what days we would be together. Do we have things to cancel? Not exactly. Had I put together a plan with our coaches to outline things for our return? Absolutely.’’
Wilson said he’s been meeting with football coaches from all around West Virginia this spring in Zoom groups, and the “common consensus’’ was that most were eyeing a June 8 return as part of the SSAC’s Phase 1.
Sissonville has games against two Putnam County teams this season, Winfield and Poca, and if Kanawha County winds up eliminating several days of workouts somewhere during the summer — Phase 1, 2 or 3 — Wilson realizes he’ll be at a disadvantage to schools who have had more workouts.
“If Putnam allows to return to practice in Phase 1,’’ Wilson said, “it puts our guys behind the 8-ball getting acclimatized and properly conditioned to compete in football. Let’s look even further when we get to August: If we’re behind the 8-ball then, are our guys properly conditioned to put on pads? Teachers report on Aug. 4, so we’re not going to be able to participate in two-a-days.
“They’ve eliminated the flex days, which we planned to use this summer, so we’re starting behind the 8-ball. We’re in uncharted territory, so it’s not unreasonable to ask for flexibility. I don’t look at this from a practice standpoint, but from the standpoint that we’re getting our kids to safely compete in the game of football.’’
Capital coach Jon Carpenter takes a softer stance when it comes to the possibility of having fewer workout days.
“I like football as much as anybody,’’ he said, “and I feel for our seniors and everybody [who’s missed practice time]. But June practice, in my opinion, is like putting lipstick on a pig. It doesn’t make or break you. To put them out there right now makes no sense to me. If the professionals are not able to go out there, I can’t imagine somebody like us practicing.
“You can’t hear the Cincinnati Reds on radio tonight, and those guys are professionals. If they’re not able to go out there, well, I think they know more than we do.’’
Carpenter thinks there are more roadblocks ahead no matter when practice begins.
“The SSAC puts out guidelines saying you need masks and hand sanitizer,’’ Carpenter said. “Where are you going to get that? My thing is, what plan is there for sending us back to school? Do we have a plan for that?
“I think people can argue both sides of it. I get it. But I still think the professionals ought to go first before we’re putting kids out there. We’re talking June, we’re not talking August.’’