Certainly, they’re questions worth asking: What happens if there’s no three-week summer practice period for West Virginia high school athletics because of the lingering effects of the coronavirus? Or what if some counties are good to go, and others aren’t?
For now, many counties around the state are pushing back their Secondary School Activities Commission-approved workouts until July, a month later than usual, to see if a sense of normalcy returns to everyday life. But as the past few months have indicated, it would come as no shock if the three-week period was wiped out completely.
First, postseason basketball tournaments were halted for nearly six weeks, then canceled outright when Gov. Jim Justice closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. Spring sports, which hadn’t even started their regular seasons, were also scrubbed.
Lately, the waiting game has extended to all-star contests and the three-week practice period, which were the next things up on the prep sports calendar. The North-South football and basketball games, originally set for the June 12-13 weekend, were recently rescheduled for July 9-10.
As far as the summer practice sessions, individual counties around the state get to determine their own three-week window. The first possible time frame, which has been utilized by most schools in past years, is June 8-27 this year. These practice plans, of course, are all contingent on Justice lifting the current ban on using school facilities as West Virginia periodically eases some of its sanctions.
Earlier this week, several counties selected July 6-25 as their practice period, a group that included Kanawha, Putnam, Jackson, Logan, Lincoln and Clay. Cabell opted for July 13-31. Other local counties such as Boone, Mingo, Wayne and Wood have yet to decide.
There’s a lot for county school officials to consider when it comes to allowing athletes and coaches to officially work together for the first time since March 12.
“Coaches may have to change what the makeup of practice looks like during the three-week window,’’ said Bernie Dolan, the SSAC’s executive director. “It’s an important period of time for everybody, but everybody has to use it wisely because this is a different year and it could be a long season.
“Then there’s the timing between having time off between the three-week window and [regular season] practice. That might be important, too. Maybe they’ll decide to only do two weeks so that they have a break.’’
The July 13-31 period is the last possible time frame to hold the three-week session, since preseason practice for football, soccer, cross country, golf and cheerleading is scheduled to begin on Monday, Aug. 3. Counties that go from July 6-25 give coaches and athletes a week off between summer practices and the start of the season.
“Usually, we do a lot in the three-week period,’’ said George Washington football coach Steve Edwards Jr., “but this time it’s just crazy. But I’m not so worried about it, because we’re all in the same boat [as other counties].
“If kids have got to go on vacation and their parents have other plans [for July] … if they open up the three-week period and you’re around here, good, but if not, then we’ll see you the first day [of practice]. We’ll do the best we can with it.’’
Then there’s the possibility of certain counties around the state feeling comfortable with holding summer practice workouts (if in accordance with the governor’s mandates and protocols), while other counties are hoping their COVID-19 numbers go down.
Many counties in central West Virginia don’t appear as hard-hit by the virus. In fact, the swath of nine counties including Braxton, Calhoun, Clay, Doddridge, Gilmer, Lewis, Ritchie, Webster and Wirt had a total of just 17 positive COVID-19 cases as of Friday.
Dolan said he’d rather not be put in a position of making a unilateral decision about halting three-week workouts for all counties because some aren’t yet ready to go.
“I don’t know if we can make a decision where we have to step in based on what’s happening in your county,’’ Dolan said. “Some of them may be perfectly good to go by the middle of June, and they may feel like they want to do that. Others may not have the ability to do that.
“Not all of [their practices] can be done by themselves, but they all have that ability. If you wanted to practice by yourself, you could go out and play basketball, even if you’re not having the whole team there. I don’t know, it’s going to be hard to even talk about because everything changes so much.’’
Some coaches have thought about the three-week practice period being canceled outright, and don’t think it would be a major hurdle. That’s the way football teams used to operate, anyway, a generation ago, with no workouts until August.
“It won’t be [a problem] if everybody’s the same,’’ said Capital football coach Jon Carpenter. “If nobody’s got it, it’s a wash. As long as we all have to do the same thing, it doesn’t bother you.
“If nobody has it, we can survive. If anything like that happens, we can get ready in August if we have to.’’
Dolan hopes that by summer’s end, the picture will be clearer for prep sports in West Virginia.
“The difference between March and August,’’ he said, “is that we’ve got a lot more knowledge about this virus than we did the first time when it shut down everything.
“We’re still waiting on what the guidelines are and what they look like, and how we’ll be able to return to play. I’m assuming it’s similar to what’s happened with businesses. There was a long time period watching businesses return to work and return to opening, and I expect it will be a model for returning to athletics.’’