By R. Alan Richardson
If you ask any player or coach involved in the Morgan County High School summer football workouts if they are glad to be back at it, the reverberating answer is a booming, “Yes.” At Monday’s practice, the first that have allowed the use of helmets, head Coach Bill Malone was ecstatic about getting the opportunity to see his players performing on the field. However, he was also overly cautious about the chances of playing any real football against scheduled opponents this fall. “I want to play football!” he exclaimed. “But I can’t understand if the Governor and everyone else involved that’s supposed to know all the details is telling us all to wear a mask, how can you play football? It’s not like you’re just breathing on each other out there when playing this game. They’re slobbering, bleeding, and getting snot all over each other. I’m really vexed about this whole thing. It’s an odd place for us all to be. Lady (his wife) and I feel comfortable about Key (his linebacker son) and I going to practice every day, but some people and parents don’t. We’ve always wanted our parents to feel good and feel safe about their kids coming to practice at MCHS. We do everything we can to protect them from the heat with hydration, from injury by stretching, and from this illness by following the guidelines set forth by the Governor, the GHSA, and our administration here. The trepidation is definitely warranted, and you have to respect that.”
Malone went on to some historical events he’s seen in his career. The veteran coach said, “Nothing compares to what we’re seeing with this virus. I mean, 9/11 and the first school shooting at Columbine rocked the education world. Many were watching the attack of 9/11 with their kids at school and before that the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster (where in 1986 teacher Christa McAuliffe and six crew members died when the spacecraft exploded seconds after its launch).
After a layoff that started with a season-ending state playoff loss to Calhoun in 2019, the months that followed have included a school closing, a shutdown of all spring sports, a majority of the summer without football workouts, and a concern that there may still be no Friday Night Lights when August and September roll around. The final concern continues to rear its ugly head. According to a report from WSB, the GHSA decided Monday to push back the season openers in football two weeks. That means first games won’t be played until Labor Day weekend with scrimmages scheduled for August 21 and 28. Regular full-scale practices will still start this coming Monday.
Malone commented, “When this week came around, we felt well enough about where we were to move on to the next phase with helmets. It was a good day. We haven’t practiced or played with headgear on since the Calhoun game. Who knows what’s next? Those decisions are made by the GHSA Board of Trustees with advice from the Medical Board along with Director Robin Hines. The ultimate deciding factor and decision-making rests on his shoulders.” And those have to be some big shoulders.
Malone, and others, know what’s at stake here. Losing a senior season is devastating. We saw that this past spring when seniors in track, baseball, golf, tennis, and soccer looked on as their final hurrah went down the drain and was cut short. Maybe that’s why everyone is so hyped-up about the possibilities. “My take on practice is that it’s been as exciting a summer ever. I think the players being cooped up for so long has played a part in it. We have a large group of seniors. They are looking forward to it, and so are we as a staff,” observed Malone. Several other coaches and players commented on how good it felt to be back in the saddle once again. Coaches Brett Bell, Michael Holdren, Bob Brunson, and Wade Woodall all echoed Malone’s excitement to be back out on the field with the kids.
If things go as planned (and hoped), the Bulldogs will head into their 2020 season as ready as possible. The schedule includes a number of new opponents with the reclassification of MOCO into their new Region 4-AAA designation. Malone was optimistic. “We’re headed into the new region with blindfolds on. All the coaches met together a few months back, but that’s about all I know. I know some of the head coaches like Eric Parker at Burke County from his days at Laney where he did a fine job. In fact, he’s done a great job everywhere he’s been. I expect them and Thomson to be two of the frontrunners for the Region Championship, but then we also have new head coaches at Harlem and Hephzibah I believe.”
The conversation ended with all kinds of “what-ifs” that included 7-on-7’s with other schools, live full contact practices, fans attending fall football games, limited seating for fans, revenue sharing with visiting teams, and whether there will be school openings/closings. The possibilities are limitless. It’s a whole new world out there. Only time will tell.