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BENNETT: It’s easy to say no

That’s exactly what the governor of the Mountain State, Jim Justice, did last month when he axed winter sports until at least Jan. 11.

Needless to say, basketball coaches and other winter sports leaders were none too happy about his executive order.

I talked with veteran Ravenswood head boys basketball coach Mick Price for a few minutes last month about this decision. Some coaches were so steamed coach Price had to “talk” several of them off the proverbial ledge.

What made matters worse was having no chance to practice or even lift weights and condition in pods. Thus, student-athletes who have been training all year and getting their bodies in top form basically got a two month hiatus.

Across the Ohio River, winter sports are up and going — aside from continued quarantines due to COVID-19 tracking through positive PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests, which is what fuels the West Virginia COVID-19 map and has brought unspeakable heartbreak to parents, athletes and coaches alike.

I’ve been lucky to cover a couple of basketball games in the Buckeye State already this season. Every single time the game starts I think to myself how can Mike DeWine, the governor of Ohio, actually sleep at night?

On this side of the river, the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission had the foresight to modify their winter sports. In case one hasn’t heard, basketball in West Virginia has banned the jump ball, unlike Ohio, and will just award it to the visiting team for safety purposes.

Bernie Dolan, the executive director of the WVSSAC, has been steadfast about being consistent. That included the organization making the decision to cost golfers two weeks of their season by pushing back their start date.

I remember talking with Eastern High School football coach Pat Newland this summer and the Eagle head man brought up the valid point, at least to me, that the 99 percent in essence are at the mercy of state health experts, who advise government and state athletic organizations.

Tug Valley High School head cheerleading coach Tara Wolford, whose three-time defending state champions were banned from regional competition because of Mingo County’s map color, tried to offer up some foresight along with others months ago but they were shunned.

“We went to the capitol in September and begged for them to let us do a March-April or February-March competition,” Wolford said. “They said it was not going to change. These are unprecedented times. Can you not make an arrangement to do it in January-February? They 100 percent refused and said no.”

In hindsight, it probably would’ve been best for the Panthers to have been told no all along on the whole season.

On Monday, Justice nixed the state cheerleading championships which were set for this Saturday at Marshall University. They are supposed to take place at some point in 2021.

“We had to move it because we just can’t possibly stand a gathering of people, a significant gathering of people that will come together, and just absolutely we know what it will do,” Justice said. “It will absolutely compound the problem that is already just devastating us all over the place.”

Therein lies the problem, though, as student-athletes aren’t the ones to blame, but they are indeed taking the brunt of the beatings.

Wolford said Mingo County went into the red on the color map in late October, just prior to the regionals on Saturday, Nov. 7 when the Panthers would’ve been in Parkersburg to begin their quest for a four-peat.

“It shut everything down. I thought something like that would happen,” she said. “My athletic director (Clyde Farley) had been in contact with Bernie Dolan and the SSAC and they told us to test. It had to be the week of competition.”

Coach Wolford and assistant Marie White along with Tug Valley’s 18-member squad were all tested that Monday.

“All 20 were negative,” said the 2019 W.Va. coach of the year. “We were all negative and it was still up in the air. They were going to let us know. It’s a blame game between the governor and SSAC. I reached out to Cindy Daniel (an assistant executive director of the WVSSAC) and she talks to me and it’s the governor’s color map. It has nothing to do with the SSAC. My principal (Doug Ward) went to bat for us. I don’t feel like it’s my girls’ fault.

“We were not sick and the map is not completely accurate all the time anyway. It gives you a number based on the number that’s tested. That’s stupid. It’s not a good theory behind this. We did not have free testing into our county until after we turned red. It was a whole big to do with it, then we go into red the last week of October and boom they want football to happen so they are going to put up all these testing sites all over the county. No one did anything for cheerleading.”

As serious as say Parkersburg South is with wrestling or on the same line as Wirt County is with volleyball, one thing Tug Valley always takes deep pride in is its cheer team.

“We spent so much money. Our uniforms were $9,000,” Wolford added. “We fundraised our guts out. Our choreographer charges $4,000 every year and it’s the same guy each year. The parents have to buy their personal items. Shoes are $99.

“We’ve invested all this money. The way we found out we were not allowed to go was in Jim Justice’s press conference at noon on Friday because we were in the red.”

The Tug Valley head coach said of that fateful Friday “we were packed and ready to go. We were supposed to leave at noon and he did the press conference at noon. He did not call Mingo County out, but we knew what he was talking about.

“My 13 girls (who would’ve been competing) were of no threat to anybody at this competition other than beating them. They were a threat to beat them. All that hard work and all that money spent is just a waste.”

Making matters even worse for the Panthers were all the precautions they took leading up to the regional.

“I quarantined them for two weeks before they even had their test,” said the coach. “They literally did not leave their house for two weeks. They came to practice for conditioning when we were orange and go back to their homes. They didn’t see their boyfriends or anything. I just want my story to be heard.

“I feel like the SSAC expects us to be like ‘oh this happened’ and I stand up for fairness. This is 100 percent not fair. What would be easier is if you were affected, not just saying you’re in red, that’s it. This is not fair what they are doing to us. It’s not fair to any of the athletes.”

Contact Jay Bennett at jbennett@newsandsentinel.com

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