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More high school athletes face disappointment over lost seasons

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | Oct 30, 2020

Swimmers compete in a meet on Dec. 14, 2019 in Shepherd University's Wellness Center. David Pennock

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Last spring, the six high schools in Jefferson and Berkeley County were forced to cancel all the softball, girls tennis, boys tennis, baseball, girls track and field and boys track and field seasons.

The culprit causing the wholesale disappointments was the coronavirus. Those in the senior classes at Jefferson, Washington, Spring Mills, Hedgesville, Martinsburg and Musselman missed their final months of competition, and were forever left with the question of “what might have been?” after all six public schools were closed in mid-March.

When the six public high schools were opened for the 2020-2021 school term, there were many alterations made in the fall sports to practice schedules, game, meet or match schedules and other areas where problems hadn’t been in evidence before this fall.

But no seasons were ultimately cancelled. The volleyball, boys cross country, girls cross country, boys soccer, girls soccer and football seasons all eventually were begun, and had competitions with other schools.

Each of the six public high schools have their own facilities for the fall sports.

The state’s color-coded system of evaluating each county has caused some hardships along the way when any county labeled red or orange had to stop practicing, stop playing games, matches or attending meets.

Toward the end of several seasons, some sports had to miss Sectional Tournaments and Regional Meets. The athletes could possibly miss qualifying for a state meet, after successfully traversing through the virus minefield for much of their seasons.

The sports calendar now calls for the beginnings and pre-season plans for several of the winter sports, including both boys and girls swimming.

None of the six area high schools has a swimming pool on-campus.

In the past, the six schools have practiced and held meets at Shepherd University, either at Sara Cree Hall or the Wellness Center, after it was built.

With the lingering effects and continuing problems with the coronavirus, both Shepherd and the state of West Virginia have issued guidelines and policies on the use of the Wellness Center by the six area high school swim teams.

The gist of the directives from the state and the university was that the high schools could no longer use the swimming pool at Shepherd.

Several parents of athletes from Jefferson High went on social media to seek clarification of directives and to see if anything could be done about the situation, which has left the students without the needed facilities to hold a swim season.

After consulting with Shepherd’s Scott Beard and Holly Frye, the school’s Jennifer Flora wrote the following to a community member: “I met with all the Jefferson and Berkeley county athletic directors and shared our facility restrictions (based on guidelines from the Governor’s office, the Jefferson Co. Health Department, and Shepherd University). We collectively decided we would not be able to host the swim season this fall. Shepherd’s conference moved all fall sports to the spring also. We have no group programming or outside groups using our facilities on campus. In an effort to keep our doors open and keep our campus safe, we are taking the recommendations and guidelines very seriously. We will reevaluate in January 2021.”

In Berkeley County, at Spring Mills High School, Athletic Director Dan Comer relayed that, “The WVDE/WVSSAC has permitted its members to proceed with the 2020-21 season with modifications.

“As you know, in the past high schools in Berkeley and Jefferson counties have used the facilities at SU exclusively for practices and meets.

“Schools have been forced to look for alternative facilities.

“. . . Berkeley County is in search for facilities as far north as Mercersburg, Penn. and as far south as Warren County, Va.

“We have not signed any contracts.

“Our plan is to have answers for our swim community as soon as possible. Until then, the official start of the swim season is Oct. 26. Our coaches will be implementing dry land exercises until we can get in the pool.”

The Jefferson High School website posted the following message on Oct.14. “Our coaches, administrators and community volunteers have been working tirelessly to ensure a safe and productive swim season for our student-athletes. At this point, we are unable to identify any pool facilities in the region that can accommodate our needs. Therefore, we must cancel the Jefferson High School and Washington High School swim seasons. If pool facilities become available, our goal will be to participate in the tentatively scheduled WVSSAC Region (Feb. 6) and State (Feb. 18-19) Championships.This is not the outcome anyone wanted, but we remain hopeful that we can enjoy a short season early next year. Thank you for your patience and continued support of our swim programs in Jefferson County Schools.”

It appears the coronavirus is not finished bringing disappointment to local high school athletes, as it did this past spring for those wanting to participate in girls track and field, boys track and field, softball, baseball, boys tennis and girls tennis.