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W.Va. High School Winter Sports Season Delayed

File Photo D.J. Saunders and Wheeling Park will have to wait longer to begin their basketball season as West Virginia governor Jim Justice delayed the high school winter sports season to Jan. 11.

As it pertains to high school sports in West Virginia, the coronavirus is now making its presence felt for a fourth consecutive season.

Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday afternoon that winter sports — boys and girls basketball, wrestling, swimming and bowling — can not begin and/or resume practices until Monday, Jan. 11, meaning actual competition would begin in the neighborhood of 10 days to two weeks afterward.

West Virginia SSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan said he had “a small conversation with the state superintendent of schools and some of the governor’s people” about the winter sports season on Thursday evening.

“Basically, it’s a matter of trying to finish the sports that are currently ongoing and then taking a break to try to help (the spread of the virus) settle down a little bit,” Dolan said. “That kind of worked for us in the fall.”

COVID-19 numbers are surging once again across the United States and West Virginia isn’t immune. Many experts believe the upcoming Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays and the gatherings that come with that time of the year could lead to a continued uptick.

“With the parties and get togethers that come with those holidays and being indoors more, those are all some of the things that seem to be spreading the virus,” Dolan said.

“We hope we can get beyond and be as safe as possible.”

Girls basketball teams across the Mountain State actually were allowed to begin practicing last Monday and boys were scheduled to get under way this Monday.

Wheeling Park head basketball coach Michael Jebbia was “upset” by the news of the 2020-21 season being delayed by eight weeks. However, the veteran Patriots head coach looked at the bright side, too.

“Maybe this (delay) will help us get a season in instead of being totally shut down after things started,” Jebbia said. “There is so much uncertainty, and we have one man (Gov. Justice) making all of the decisions.”

There are still full plans for the SSAC to hold all of its tournaments. However, Dolan admitted that the published dates for those are basically null and void.

“We have to revamp our entire seasons and I know we won’t add a full month,” Dolan said. “We’ll have to look at it and see what’s available (in terms of venue dates) and what makes sense for tournaments.

“I am very disappointed with the announcement, but I am heartbroken for our student-athletes,” Cameron basketball coach Tom Hart said. “We’ve had several who did not get to complete their fall seasons and others who have been working very hard to get ready for basketball season.”

Though disappointed, Hart sees the numbers on the rise in Marshall County, and specifically Cameron.

“We have had a significant increase in community spread of COVID 19 countywide and in Cameron over the past several weeks,” Hart said. “That can’t be ignored. We want our community to be safe, and I want all my players and their families to be safe.”

Similar to Jebbia’s thoughts, Hart hopes moving forward that the SSAC, schools and coaches have more of a say.

“I feel that with some collaborative efforts and some open discussion with the stakeholders, there could have been some well thought out ideas to propose some other options,” Hart said. “We knew this season would be different than any others we had experienced before and delaying the winter sports season falls in line with that. I just hurt for my kids.”

While the fall sports were infringed upon the least, winter sports are feeling the wrath of COVID-19 for the second straight season. The ending of the basketball seasons — for both boys and girls — came early. The state tournament for girls basketball actually started, but was postponed and eventually canceled. Not all of the boys teams even had finished their regional tournament action before the season was eventually called off.

The Patriots were one of the teams affected. They had clinched a spot in the AAA state tournament last winter, but saw their Charleston trip called off.

“The state basketball tournament, last year, could have been played,” Jebbia said. “We ended last season on a tough note, and (start) this one the same way. We will eventually get through this and get back to some kind of normalcy.”

Because of the adjustment to the winter calendar, Dolan already said the spring season will have to be adjusted, too. But, similar to the winter seasons, those dates will be a work in progress. Similar to winter, the SSAC will have to check with the host venues before formally announcing its schedule to the membership.

Fall sports, which haven’t finished competing — volleyball, football and competition cheering — are permitted to finish their seasons. The volleyball state tournament actually wraps up Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center, while the football tournament got under way Friday and is scheduled to run through the Super Six at Wheeling Island Stadium on Dec. 4 and 5.

“I hope we can finish (the fall sports),” Dolan said. “There could come a time when the governor or the health department says it’s simply not safe enough to continue. Let’s hope we get through it.”

Speaking of football, Wheeling Park, Wheeling Central and John Marshall are anxiously awaiting Saturday’s announcement of the weekly color-coded map which dictates where sporting events can be contested. Should Ohio and Marshall Counties fall into the Green, Yellow or Gold categories, they’ll be able to play their first-round playoff games, as scheduled, on Sunday.

However, should the counties be listed as Orange or Red, the aforementioned schools would be forced to give up their spot in the tournament and their opposition — Princeton, St. Marys and Cabell Midland, respectively — will all move on to the state quarterfinals.

“We’re map watchers, too,” Dolan said of the SSAC. “We’ve been able to see how hot (with COVID numbers) the state is getting. Under our metrics, any looking at the incident or infection rate, I think 44 of our 55 counties are either orange or red.”

The start of the fall season as delayed by Gov. Justice by a few weeks. It actually only cost football teams one week of their actual schedule. While the SSAC will look to revise its scheduled regional and state championship events in the winter sports, it didn’t alter its path for fall.

“Obviously, if we had the information back then (in August) that we do now, it might have been different,” Dolan said. “We did feel the end (of the season) would be more challenging than the beginning. We just didn’t want to move our championships up too far.”

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