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Bragg: It Was a Sad End to a Frustrating, Unforgettable High School Football Season

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Sissonville players hug on the field following their playoff loss to Elkins last month. (Tom Bragg/WVSN)

Ohio and Pennsylvania both recently crowned high school football state champions on the field, and Kentucky will soon do the same. West Virginia has its three state champions, but with all due respect to that trio of deserving and very good football teams, there was very little to celebrate about the way the season ended in the Mountain State.

What players, coaches, families and school administrators were forced to deal with in athletics this fall around West Virginia was nothing short of absurd. If it was unsafe for the kids to play ball, then the kids shouldn’t have played ball, period. While colleges have had lots of headaches in trying to keep their teams on the field and away from COVID, high schools have found ways to keep the players and coaches safe. The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission were given a path to make the fall sports seasons happen, but the “so bad it would be funny if it wasn’t also so scary” state department of education COIVD metrics map was an anchor tied around the state high school sports governing body’s waist, and the SSAC got tossed in the deep end on this one.

The confusing, sometimes changing rules and logic applied to the COVID metrics map for sports participation is going to leave a sour taste in the mouths of everyone involved with high school athletics in West Virginia after this season. It is a tough lesson, but also an important lesson for the student-athletes (and if we’re keeping it real some of the adults involved too): the world is not always going to be fair, and often things you disagree with are out of your control. It sucks — no doubt about that — but sometimes in life, you have to find a way to make the best of a bad situation.

From what I saw out of West Virginia high school football players, those kids gave it their all each week this season in the face of an almost certain bad ending looming over everything. Let’s take the rest of this space and use it not to lament the rotten way these athletes were jerked around these last few months, but to look back on some of the fun moments and memorable performances.

When I think back to what happened on the field in 2020, I’m going to remember Musselman’s Blake Hartman combining power and speed to put a bow on one of the great high school football careers our state has seen.

I’ll also remember that classic game between Spring Valley and Martinsburg at Cobourn Field when the Timberwolves snapped the Bulldogs’ four-year-long winning streak. One definite plus to the 2020 season was this is the year many West Virginia schools found ways to get their games broadcast online. I didn’t make the trip to the Eastern Panhandle that night, but I didn’t have to. I watched that game, along with several others simultaneously, from the comfort of my home office through different methods of streaming. That allowed me to say close to home and attend games around the Kanawha Valley while also keeping tabs on Martinsburg or Hartman or Wheeling Park or Frankfort or Fairmont Senior or Parkersburg — you get the idea.

I’ll remember 2020 for all the great players I got to keep up with as part of our coverage here at WVSN who I otherwise probably wouldn’t know much about — guys like Atticus Goodson from Independence and Ean Hamric from Gilmer County. I’ll remember Jakob Caudill’s blonde mullet poking out from under his silver Cabell Midland helmet and he smashed through defenders as a fullback and punished quarterbacks and running backs on defense. I’ll remember Ethan Payne making everything look easy for Poca. I’ll remember the celebration on the field after St. Albans beat Capital for the first time in program history — ditto that for Elkins after the No. 16 Tigers upset No. 1 Sissonville in the first round of the Class AA playoffs for the first postseason football win in school history.

Of course, champions also get remembered. With apologies to St. Marys (y’all were great this season it was just more difficult for me to follow along each week), Fairmont Senior and South Charleston are two programs I have followed and covered closely on and off during the last decade and I will absolutely remember the 2020 Polar Bear and Black Eagle teams. Fairmont Senior was supposed to take a step back, even with Bridgeport out of the way in Class AA, but do-it-all quarterback Gage Michael was among the best in the state all season and he helped bring another trophy back to 12th Street in the Friendly City. South Charleston had questions around its team prior to this season too. The Black Eagles came into the season with a veteran defense, but the offense had yet to really prove itself. Sophomore quarterback Trey Dunn elevated his game to a top-tier level, sophomore running back Mondrell Dean emerged as one of the state’s best at his position, Xavier Bausley led a stout offensive line and receivers such as Shyleik Kinney made a habit of making defensive backs look bad as SC’s offense was arguably the best in the school history.

So yeah, it really sucks how it all went down and some words from some guy on a website aren’t going to change that. But despite the bad situation everyone was put in, there was certainly plenty of good to celebrate — even if we didn’t get football exactly the way we wanted or are used to.

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Tom Bragg covers WVU, Marshall, high schools and other sports for West Virginia Sports Now. Tom spent more than a decade as a sports journalist based in West Virginia covering high school, college, youth and professional sports for newspapers in Huntington, Fairmont and Charleston before joining WVSN in 2020. Tom is a graduate of Marshall University's W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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