Teams wind down season unlike any other
Well, local teams have done it – at least, sort of.
Volleyball season is over. The football regular season concludes this week. Considering the situation in mid-July and even in mid-August, this has to be considered a success by the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
Many thought high school football would never happen – and, in some schools, it didn’t – and many others thought teams would never make it through the season.
It hasn’t been perfect, that’s for sure. There have been more than 200 COVID-19 forfeits statewide, but according to the AHSAA, half of those were teams that cancelled their entire seasons to begin with.
“I just want to thank our member schools for their dedication and commitment regarding our fall best practices guidelines,” said Steve Savarese, executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association. “This has allowed our students to participate in fall sports activities.
“We continued to face a lot of health–related challenges,” Savarese added. “Our school’s commitment to student safety and everyday flexibility and understanding, along with wonderful health care professionals, has allowed us to be where we are today.”
Locally, Tharptown and Vina were the only football programs that completed a full regular season schedule. Red Bay, Russellville and Phil Campbell all played shorter seasons because of other teams having to cancel or forfeit, and Phil Campbell and Russellville both had to forfeit a game recently because of their own COVID outbreaks.
Red Bay and Russellville are hosting first round play–off games. Phil Campbell will travel in the first round of the playoffs.
“Without a doubt, I think this season has been a success,” said Russellville Coach John Ritter. “Back in early August, there were no expectations. We didn’t know what would happen. I think our kids did a great job of adjusting at the beginning by just going out there every day and having fun and getting after it. I told them to live in the moment, enjoy every day and play every game like it could be their last.
Phil Campbell Coach Kevin Barnwell said his team “decided from the outset to control what we could control and try not to worry about the rest.”
“There are more important things in life than football,” Barnwell said. “There are people who say the virus isn’t real. It is real. I know a lot of our kids have had it. I’ve known people who have died from it.”
Barnwell said he didn’t think high school football would get to make it through the season. “So, I’m happy we’ve got to this point. It was more than I anticipated,” he said. “I think we might have got emotionally complacent about mid–season, thinking we had made it through, and then it just hit us. It was frustrating to have to forfeit that game against East Lawrence. We didn’t get to play a game early in the season because another team had to forfeit.
“These kids have been very positive. They have pulled together to make it the best they can.”
Red Bay had a tough start to the season when Hamilton and Biggersville, Miss., had to cancel the first two weeks of the season. The Tigers played one game against Lexington and then had a regularly–scheduled off week. Red Bay’s practice participation was inconsistent up until a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s been a frustrating season for everybody,” said Red Bay Coach Michael Jackson. “We are all going through the same thing. It has been very inconsistent with what you can get done with so many out all the time. This week at Colbert County was the first week we have had all of our starters together at practice and the game.
“I figured we could get the season in,” Jackson said. “You have to remember, we’ve been going since June 1, and we didn’t have any problems during the summer. Now, when we got started back to school and kids started hanging out together more, we started having some issues.”
Volleyball season was much different than football. With football, there is just one game a week, while volleyball has multiple matches each week and tournaments, and most of the time multiple teams are involved each day. Scheduling and rescheduling became a nightmare for most teams because of cancellations by other teams or their own team being quarantined.
“In the beginning, I was very concerned,” said Belgreen volleyball Coach Susie Tverberg, whose varsity team was able to play a complete season, win the area and advance to regionals in Huntsville. “I lost five tournaments and six regular season games on the schedule because of COVID. The AHSAA recommended that we play at least one of our area games before Sept. 15, which caused most schools to have to reschedule and move games around.
“I’m almost certain I revised our schedule at least 25 times,” Tverberg added. “I stopped counting at 18. As the season played out, we were able to add games and pick up a few tournaments.
“We never had any positive cases on our varsity or junior high team, but we had to quarantine several because of close contact. We had two positive cases on the junior varsity team and had to shut that program down for two weeks.”
Getting through a football or volleyball season with minimal disruptions required a lot of extra work and a lot of luck.
“We had to keep our practices separate instead of practicing together like we normally would,” added Tverberg. “I wanted to keep varsity alone to really minimize the risk of shutting down. We sanitized often and thoroughly. We checked temperatures of workers, officials and coaches before every game. Volleyball sanitizer actually became a job duty assigned to the girls for home games. We had seating charts on the buses and temperature logs.
“Varsity volleyball was able to have a complete season. It was a lot of work, and I never dreamed it would happen. We are just glad to see our girls rewarded for all the hard work.”
Basketball season will bring about numerous challenges that local schools are beginning to work out. A virus outbreak at Belgreen High School has already shuttered the varsity and junior high girls teams for two weeks.
“We have had to reschedule three junior games, and the varsity home opener has been cancelled against New Site (Miss.),” said Belgreen girls Coach Chad Green. “Realistically we know we are going to have some dates we are not going to be able to play, whether it’s a problem for us or another team. Our kids understand it is going to be an off–and–on kind of thing.”
As for Green’s team, the girls will come out of quarantine right into their first game, and that will pose even more challenges.
“We will not get to practice for several days and go right into a game,” Green explained. “We won’t be in very good shape, and we definitely won’t be in mid–season form. Some will have basketball goals at home, and some won’t. Some will have basketballs at home, and some won’t. Some will try to stay in shape, and some won’t.”
Green’s advice will echo throughout basketball programs everywhere: “Just do the best you can. That’s all we can do.”