After years of working with the people who staff the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, I have learned two things.
First, regardless of what many fans believe, those in charge of overseeing the athletic programs in the Mountain State truly care about the kids, coaches, officials and schools with which they deal.
And, secondly, change happens at glacial speed.
Case in point. Several years ago an idea was proposed that would have moved this weekend's semifinal contests to fields containing an artificial surface. The proposal came about because of the propensity in the state to suffer through less-than-ideal field conditions during this time of the year.
However, here we are years later and the most important round of the playoffs-excluding the Super Six Championships of course-are still being contested on grass fields that have long since lost a majority of their grass.
While it is understandable why higher ranked schools wish to play host to such important games, it also makes one wonder if such decisions are made in the kids-and the fans-best interest.
One only has to think back to the end of the 2003 season when the Yellowjackets from Williamstown and the Patriots from Parkersburg South traveled to Wheeling Island Stadium to challenge for a state title. The weather was, as it usually is during that time of year, snowy and the then-grass surface quickly turned into a slippery, muddy mess.
The Dots from Poca survived the blizzard-like conditions the night before, as well as a very talented Bluefield squad, to capture their third consecutive Class AA crown by one point, 21-20. However, the damage had been done and the four teams that were going to be expected to play on the surface the following day would end up paying the price.
First up were the Patriots of then-head coach Mike DeVol taking on a Martinsburg Bulldog squad that featured future WVU players Brandon Barrett (albeit a short stay in Morgantown) and Nate Sowers. The Patriots, behind an MVP performance by Ben Gum, prevailed by a 26-20 score, but the now-mud surface turned the contest into a guessing game as uniform numbers-as well as colors-disappeared as fast as the remaining grass.
That was never more evident than the final frantic moments of the weekend's final championship between the Yellowjackets from Wood County and the Yellowjackets from Moorefield. Williamstown had just scored to slice Moorefield's advantage to 20-18. But, on the ensuing two-point attempt when senior Shane Smith dropped back to pass all he saw was a bunch of players covered in mud.
Needless to say Williamstown's attempt failed and the Yellowjackets had to settle for the runner-up trophy. Within days the ire of the state fell upon the WVSSAC and Wheeling answered by installing an artificial surface. In fact the number of 'fake grass' fields around the state has multiplied since that time.
Fast forward to this weekend's games, however, and it would appear that we have learned little from the past as less-than-adequate field conditions may still have an impact on who advances and who will be collecting uniforms next week.
Contact Jim Butta at firstname.lastname@example.org