As the 2021 high school football season kicks off this weekend, every team is facing a common opponent this year that seems determined to keep them off the field. COVID is once again threatening to wreak havoc on the high school football season but just as coaches have drawn up gameplans to defeat their opponents on the field, there is a simple gameplan to defeat their opponent off the field.
Vaccinations along with an abundance of caution could be the winning formula that helps us avoid the debacle that was the 2020 season.
University High School Football Coach John Kelley has never been one to mince words and when a question requires a direct answer, he never disappoints. So, when I asked him pointblank during a recent appearance on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town” whether or not we could pull off an uninterrupted football season, Kelley delivered a direct response:
It was a crushing answer as we all believed this season would not come with the same struggles as 2020. When the summer practice period started in July, it appeared as though the worst of COVID was behind us. However, the virus has had other plans. Pushed by the Delta variant, COVID cases are on the uptick across the state, as are hospitalizations, and COVID has already seeped into schools prompting a handful of changes to the week one football schedule.
While Kelley might be looking at the glass as half-empty, the aforementioned gameplan of vaccines and caution, might just prove him wrong.
“One of the first things we’ve done is encouraged them to go get vaccinated. Obviously, that’s a family choice and a personal choice but we have strongly encouraged them to get vaccinated so we don’t have to worry about this or worry about contact tracing,” said Morgantown Head Coach Sean Biser.
Everyone 12 and older is eligible for the vaccine. That means all student-athletes can receive one of the COVID shots, with parental consent. That is significant because if it is determined that a player or coach has come in close contact with a COVID positive individual, if they are vaccinated they do not face the same quarantine restrictions as unvaccinated individuals.
“The one thing about it is, this year any of our players or coaches who are vaccinated, as long as they’re not positive, they won’t have to quarantine,” explained University High Athletics Director Jeff Bailey.
Obviously, coaches cannot, nor should they, control decisions that need to be made as a family, but they can control just about everything else surrounding the program.
“We’re going to do everything that our health department and school health tell us to do to keep these young men and women on the field and on the court,” said Bailey.
“It’s not just jumping through the hoops, it’s actually doing the things we need to do to keep people safe. As long as we do that, I’ll remain hopeful.”
Among the precautions teams are taking is limiting their time indoors and when it can’t be avoided, masking up and spacing out as much as possible.
Morgantown Coach Sean Biser has put limits on the number players in the locker room at one time, even going as far as to implement time restrictions for getting dressed and getting back out on the field. The Mohigans are going as far as declining using school buses to travel to away games this year, avoiding prolonged exposure in a confined space.
Kelley’s pessimism is understandable, but there’s also reason for optimism — because there is a simple gameplan in place for all us to defeat this unrelenting opponent.