HUNTINGTON -- An announcement by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice to postpone winter high school sports until Jan. 11 caught many around the state by surprise on Friday morning.
West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission executive director Bernie Dolan was not among those surprised, however, despite reports to the contrary following Justice's announcement.
Dolan said he spoke with Dr. Clay Marsh, the state's coronavirus expert, on Thursday evening about such a possibility.
"We did have a conversation and I support it," Dolan said. "I look at the numbers. Yesterday, 44 of the 55 counties were orange or red by infection rate, so obviously something is going wrong and we need to (take) drastic measures."
While measures are being taken for winter sports to push back its date, Dolan said the postponement or cancellation of the current high school football postseason has not yet been discussed.
"That's assuming that we don't get a whole lot worse between now and Dec. whatever for cheer and football," Dolan said. "Every week is going to be a touch-and-go thing, I think. Right now, we're saying go forward. If it continues to get bad, we may have to make another decision."
Dolan added that Friday's shift of winter sports back to after the start of 2021 extends a time window for fall sports to complete while also allowing the state to deal with the holiday season, which is expected to be a difficult stretch in terms of the spread of COVID-19.
"The bottom line is, I think they just want to be able to finish what is started and then allow things to cool down while everybody is going through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s," Dolan said. "They’ll be lots of parties and social gatherings, so they want to get behind all that."
Reactions from local student-athletes and coaches were mixed after Justice announced Friday that winter high school sports will be postponed until at least Jan. 11.
During his Friday morning COVID-19 press briefing, Justice announced the postponement, but didn't specify if that date was when games may begin being played or practices may start.
Justice said rapidly increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases were the cause of the postponement. Justice said he will inquire about reducing the preseason practice requirement from 14 days to seven.
“We have tried with all in us to be able to support our athletic teams,” said Justice, who coaches Greenbrier East High School's girls basketball team. “We know it’s important.”
Justice said fall sports will continue their seasons to conclusion unless something drastic changes.
Girls basketball teams began practice on Monday. Boys basketball and wrestling teams were scheduled to begin practices next Monday. Swimming season started on Wednesday.
"I think it's definitely needed," said Huntington High swimmer Ana Carr. "It's bad and everyone's frustrated. The last time we postponed seasons we shut down the school and never went back."
Carr said she will try to stay in shape by swimming and working out by herself.
Cabell Midland boys basketball standout Chandler Schmidt was more upset with the postponement.
"It's awful," said Schmidt, an all-state guard. "I just want to be able to play the sport I love and not have to worry about whether I'm going to play. This is one of my biggest years and it's all being shut down or pushed back because of this pandemic. I just want everything to be over and back to normal."
Smith's counterpart, Amare Smith, at Huntington High said he was looking forward to beginning basketball season on time, but will use the delay to improve his game.
"I'm really bummed out on not being able to play for right now, but that just makes me want to keep working harder," Smith said. "I still have a lot to prove and hopefully we will be back playing again. All you can do right now is keep getting better and I'll keep doing that."
Smith coach, Ty Holmes, said worrying does no good and that he will trust in the Lord.
"There's nothing we can do but abide by the rules and keep others in mind as we follow the advisories," Holmes said. "We just have to be safe and know that God is in control and he knows best."
Hurricane boys basketball coach Lance Sutherland took the news in stride.
"Hopefully come January, we will hit the ground running," Sutherland said. "I'm not surprised and I understand. I just wish (Justice) was more consistent on his way of thinking. It seems like he could have come up with this a few weeks ago when things really started to go south."
Sutherland said he and his team will comply and hope that COVID numbers drop so quickly that teams can return to practice earlier than Jan. 11.
"I'll do whatever it takes if that means we can play," Sutherland said. "I hope that numbers go down and he will revisit this decision and maybe let us start practicing the week after Christmas or Jan. 14 and let us have games starting the 18th. Bottom line, we have to wear masks, wash our hands, clean everything and be smart."
The girls and boys basketball state tournaments were canceled last winter. The girls event was halted nine games into the 21-game tournament.