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Navigating COVID in high school football

Behind the scenes work during COVID scheduling mayhem worthy of recognition

With Ohio now halfway through the 2021 football season and West Virginia nearing the midpoint, the schedules to this point have been, for lack of a better term, in flux, to say the least.

With what seem to be constant changes — sometimes mere hours before games have been set to kickoff — comes a lot of behind the scenes work by athletic directors, administrations and coaching staffs — work that I feel should not be overlooked.

Last season, with the modified schedules and playoff format in Ohio and the COVID map (don’t get me started on that debacle) in West Virginia, it would have been easy to view the way things played out as crazy.

I remember having a conversation with an Ohio coach about just how hard the AD and assistant AD at that particular school was working to schedule games after the Ohio playoffs, filling holes due to opponents going into quarantine every day — mind you, while also trying to figure out what basketball season is going to look like in two months or less.

I remember a conversation with a West Virginia coach about the emotions of updating the COVID map and crossing their fingers that they would be able to play that week.

While 2021 is certainly not 2020, it has also had its challenges so far this season and COVID protocols have affected the schedule each week of the season so far in the Herald-Star/Daily Times coverage area.

The changes started before the first kickoff, quickly making it clear this season was going to have its own set of challenges.

Buckeye Local’s schedule has been affected by two separate issues, Oak Glen just came back from losing two games to quarantine, Indian Creek and Brooke had to sit out this past week and Harrison Central, along with the Panthers, had to scramble to find a replacement opponent — a situation Toronto found itself in during Week 1. Edison also had to find a new opponent in Week 2.

So far, every area team that lost an opponent and was able to play has been able to find a new game, and that is a testament to the work of the athletic departments of those schools.

Toronto, as previously mentioned, found out its first game of the season, a much-anticipated debut of its new turf against rival Wellsville, found out about 24 hours before the kick the Tigers were out. The Red Knights, thanks to around-the-clock work, were able to take the field in their opener the first Friday of the season against Pepper Pike Orange.

This past week, the most affected yet with four games being altered or canceled, Harrison Central found out East Liverpool was unable to make the trip on Cadiz on Wednesday, and the Huskies had Gates Mills Hawken on the schedule the next morning.

Buckeye Local’s situation this past week was even more time-crunched, as the Panthers were less than eight hours from the scheduled kick for what was supposed to be a Thursday night trip to Monroe Central when they found out the Seminoles couldn’t play, and, the next morning, like the first two examples, scheduled a trip to West Salem Northwestern on Friday for later that night.

Elsewhere in the OVAC this week, St. Clairsville reacted to Indian Creek having to cancel by picking up Linsly.

Those are just a few examples, as the changes have been all over in both states each week. There is a Twitter account dedicated to keeping track of which Ohio teams are seeking an opponent, which is something to see.

It has not been uncommon to see coaches and schools communicating and at least starting the conversation on social media about scheduling games. For all the bad social media can be, that’s been a big positive.

The point of all this is to say this — as frustrating as I can only imagine as it is to go through, the adults involved are doing an incredible job of getting the kids on the field.

And, let’s not forget the kids and coaches being willing to take on the challenge of playing someone new after preparing all week for a different opponent. That’s no small feat.

If you’re a parent or a fan and you see your school’s AD or coach, consider thanking them. It cannot be easy.

As a writer trying to keep up with it all and bugging the daylights out of coaches and ADs about if they’re going to play, I say thank you and keep up the good work.

Here’s to hoping for no changes this week.

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