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Local coaches weigh in on another delay to winter campaign

Parkersburg South’s Ashton Mooney goes up for a layup during a 2019 regular-season game against South Charleston. Mooney is expected to be one of the key leaders for head coach Mike Fallon if the Patriots and everyone can get on the floor this season. (Photo by Jay W. Bennett)

PARKERSBURG — West Virginia Governor Jim Justice’s decision to push the winter sports season back to March 1 is causing more area high school teams to rethink how the season will move ahead. While the state’s COVID-19 numbers did not look promising, the initial startup date of Jan. 11 was inching closer with each passing day. Then, Saturday’s announcement changed the landscape, once again. Coaches are willing to roll with the punches, as an uncertain 2021 starts in the Mountain State.

For Parkersburg South boys basketball coach Mike Fallon, his return after a year away from the Rod Oldham Athletic Center presents challenges and a better appreciation for the South program.

“It’s been tough, but I think for me, the biggest thing is that it’s kind of hard to just look at myself. I feel sorry for our senior kids,” he said. “Our seniors are who I feel sorry for. I know that I’ll eventually get to go back, and there will eventually be a season, but my heart really aches for those guys.”

Like many coaches, Fallon is keeping close to his team virtually. He’s also giving back in the classroom by helping some of his players with tutoring when needed.

“A few of the kids have come over, and my wife and I have done some tutoring with some of our players. This online stuff is hard. It’s not fair for these kids, and I think some of these kids without structure have it really hard. I’ve had to reach out to some of the teachers who the kids are in class with to figure out what to do, because this is tough.”

Williamstown girls basketball head coach Fred Sauro says precautions are necessary, as his young team from a year ago gets older and more experienced heading into the 2021 slate.

“That’s just one of those things, with COVID, that I hear they’re doing in Illinois. Everybody is doing something different,” Sauro said. “Whether it’s state-by-state or the federal system of government, there’s the idea that each state has its own laws and each state has the right to run their localities the way they see best. Instead of griping about it, I think we need to do our best to roll with the punches. It is tough, but I do think we will have a season. Pushing it back that far, it’ll be an abbreviated season.”

Sauro’s optimism comes after weeks of keeping in touch with his team and seeing the hard work they’ve done.

“They’ve told me what they’re doing on their own,” Sauro said of his players. “They’ve talked about any running, or ball-handling or being able to shoot at a hoop at their house. That’s probably the extent of it all, right now. We haven’t done anything organized, but what I’m really proud of these kids for is that they have gotten out and they have been running. It’s easy for them to say that they can sit back and procrastinate.”

Gilmer County girls basketball head coach Amy Chapman also shared her experiences, as she hopes time can be given for teams around the state to warm up.

“It’s obviously disappointing, especially for our program,” she said. “We’ve got a bunch of hungry kids waiting to get the season started. We’re just hoping and praying for the best. We just want to get rolling, and maybe some decisions can be changed so we can get started a little sooner with our teams. It would be very tough to not have practice time, so I’d say we need at least a month like we normally have. We need that time to get them ready for the first contest, and if we reduce that, that would be tough on the kids. That’s who’s going to be challenged the most, but I stay in contact with the girls. I encourage them to do the best they can with staying in shape and trying to work on some fundamentals and things they can do at home to work on their strength. However, we’re in an area that’s tough. There aren’t a lot of areas to get into a weight room or to find a gym they’re allowed to go into. They have to be creative, and they’re doing the best they can.”

Like Sauro and the rest of the Little Kanawha Conference, the implementation of the pod system gives Gilmer County a chance to see how the rest of the conference stacks up in a shortened year, and Chapman looks forward to that opportunity.

“We did this a few years back with the pod system, and I liked it,” she said. “It helped us play different teams and get different teams on our schedule. I know everything is going to change, but hopefully some decisions get made soon and we could possibly get started early.”

Parkersburg boys coach Bryan Crislip is confident Justice will allow time for the teams to get physically ready, as his biggest concern is making sure student-athletes are academically eligible.

“It’s heartbreaking. The kids are kind of getting strung along a little bit,” he said. “We want them to have the opportunity to play. They put in all this time in the offseason, and to not have a season so far just breaks your heart for the kids. I text them more than anything else to see how they’re doing and to see how their grades are holding up. Even the smart kids are struggling, academically. With all this virtual stuff, it’s a different ballgame.”

Crislip says he had the idea Jan. 11 wasn’t going to last as the startup date, and he understands why Justice made the decision.

“All along, you knew the numbers with the holidays were going to go up. I personally listen to Justice’s speech everyday from the the business of running the Elite Sports Center,” he said. “It plays a big part in what we’re allowed to do, so he’d always kind of hint that Jan. 11 wasn’t very likely. The other thing that worried me was the great gesture by Justice, and I forget who else too, where they gave $4 million to high school athletics, band and Key Club. That goes a long way for the lost revenue that everybody’s incurring because of not playing sports. That made me worried, because if he’s giving all this money, what are his thoughts about having a season? That was my biggest fear. I’m just worried about what it meant.”

Contact Josh Hughes at jhughes@newsandsentinel.com

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