The North-South All-Star softball games aren’t completely dead after all.
After weeks of mulling over options, the North-South softball games officially got the green light Thursday. The games will be held at Buffalo High School beginning at 10 a.m. July 9 under an altered format.
The decision capped a lengthy period of jumping through hoops and playing the waiting game for current Buffalo softball coach Billy Rasnake and former coach Darrell Moore. But with Little League allowed to return with spectators allowed on June 22 and the state Secondary School Activities Commission moving forward with its three-phase plan, including a three-week practice period in July, the Bison brass made the call to move forward.
“I talked to the principal and the athletic director down here and since everything is opening back up for the three-week window, we figured it was OK to move ahead,” Rasnake said. “My principal said let’s go ahead and do it.”
While the event will carry the North-South name, it will be a departure from its normal format.
Instead of a squad from the North and one from the South playing three games, the third of which being five innings, teams representing each of the state’s four regions will compete on July 9. Skills competitions have been scrapped this year, with the four teams each guaranteed to play two games with the first-round losers meeting after semifinals are finished and the first-round winners playing for the championship.
Each roster will consist of 16-18 players, all of which will be picked by the coaches of each squad.
“Darrell came up with that idea to get more kids to play,” Rasnake said. “Sometimes it’s hard for us to pick kids from around the state because we never get to see them.”
Coaches for the teams have already been chosen. Buckhannon-Upshur’s Levi Bender has been slated to lead the Region 1 team with Herbert Hoover’s Missy Smith and Nicholas County’s Marie Shaffer guiding Region 2. Christian Watts of St. Albans and Donald Barnett of Shady Spring will lead the Region 3 squad with Sherman’s Jim Henderson and Hurricane’s Meghan Stevens coaching the team from Region 4.
While coaches were instructed to begin building their rosters, some big names from the Kanawha Valley have already committed, including Herbert Hoover’s Delani Buckner, St. Albans’ Brianna McCown and Hurricane’s Harlie Vannatter. Under this format, the three area aces will be split onto three different teams.
Also, Buffalo’s duo of All-State seniors, Lindsey Russell and Maggie Bird, have committed to suit up for Region 4.
Holding the event during the coronavirus pandemic comes with special safety precautions.
Coaches must fill out basic health forms for each player, ensuring that no one that has had symptoms will be allowed to compete. Also, all players will be instructed to bring their own bat, glove and helmet and will not be permitted to use any belonging to another player.
As far as spectators are concerned, many fans attending games at Buffalo’s softball field choose to park in the outfield and either watch from lawn chairs or from their vehicles. That will be encouraged. For those choosing to sit in the stands, a seat must be left between each fan. The concession stand at Buffalo is already equipped with a plexiglass window and all workers will wear gloves.
Like all spring sports, softball was completely wiped out by the coronavirus. The July 9 contests will serve as a swan song for seniors selected by coaches.
Rasnake admitted the process has come with its ups and downs as announcements by Gov. Jim Justice as well as the SSAC have come and gone, but the ability to hold the event brings with it a sense of relief.
“One day we were all gung-ho and making plans and the next day we’d hear that school wouldn’t start and then they announced Little League could start on June 22 with spectators,” Rasnake said. “It has been an up-and-down ride, that’s for sure.”