The 2020 high school football season has ended in West Virginia with the meekest of whimpers. Champions were decided not on the playing field but by the state Department of Education’s color-coded map.
The result is the Secondary Schools Activities Commission pronounced South Charleston as the champion of Class AAA, Fairmont Senior in Class AA and St. Marys in Class A. Athletes in Cabell, Wayne and other counties weren’t allowed to compete for titles for reasons having nothing to do with their abilities on the field, while athletes in other counties were.
Athletes, coaches, fans and sports writers can argue about whether this action by the SSAC was justified. The bigger picture here is that it exemplifies the sometimes organized, sometimes chaotic situation that West Virginia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been and what may be yet to come.
Here’s the thing: The number of known incidences of people testing positive for the novel coronavirus has been increasing for a while. There’s a lot of wiggle room in that statement — “known” and “testing positive” among them — but it’s the fact we have to work with. How many of us know someone who has spent time in a hospital in the past six weeks because of a COVID-19 infection? How many of us know someone who has lost a friend or relative to the disease? The chances are that number has spiked upward in the past month and a half.
COVID-19 is not something to panic over, as some simple steps should be able to slow its spread. But it’s nothing to ignore or treat as a hoax, either. Professional sports leagues can put their teams in bubbles to protect them during their postseasons. Some universities might be able to do that, but high schools certainly don’t have the financial resources to do so.
It goes beyond athletics, of course. Soon we should know whether West Virginia’s school children have suffered a lost year because remote learning is not for them. Many children may have to do the school year over. The former term was “failing a year.” Then it was “held back.” A new term might be “reset” or something similar to remove the stigma of having to repeat a year of school once classes return to normal.
There’s a lot to talk about the lessons we as a society have learned from this pandemic — preparedness, trust in institutions and protection of basic rights during an emergency that never seems to end. That discussion will come later.
It’s important to not get sidetracked. Losing a year of sports is one thing. Losing a year of education is another. School officials are doing their best, but that might not be enough for some children for reasons out of the schools’ control. Difficult and unpopular decisions could be coming. We might as well brace ourselves for them now.