For more years that I’d like to admit, my Friday nights in the fall have been spent patrolling a sideline of a high school football game. The largest majority of those assignments included Goochland football, and, over those years, I’ve been treated to some of the most exciting and inspiring examples of athletic prowess imaginable.
And it’s become almost normal for me to be involved in a playoff run, most of them featuring numerous victories. Playing football in November and December have become the norm for Bulldog fans and the ones lucky enough to provide coverage.
I’ve been fortunate to have been there for two state championships and several efforts that just missed the top prize. Along the way, I’ve met and interacted with some memorable athletes. More importantly, I’ve witnessed what can happen when a team is consistently well-coached, and what happens when players believe in a proven system.
This fall will be different, and, as days become shorter and the night time air is filled with a chill, the football field at Goochland will be vacant, the stands emptied of fans, and the line at the concession stand, non-existent.
I’m not sure it has ever happened before, and I can’t recall a disruption to the season equal to this. The only comparable period was a brief couple of weeks when a sniper terrorized the area, forcing the cancellation or postponement of several area contests.
So, count me among the disappointed when the VHSL announced there would be no football this fall, opting instead for a spring season on the gridiron.
After the initial shock settled, I realized it was the right thing to do. With too many unknowns regarding COVID-19 and its transmission, it just wasn’t worth risking the well-being of thousands of students for a Friday night experience that many of us have integrated into our lifestyles.
That endorsement of the VHSL decision doesn’t discount the major impact it presents for athletes prepared to showcase talents in a senior season and show off their skills to potential college suitors.
Hopefully, they will get that opportunity in a spring football season, still among the options outlined by VHSL.
It leaves me wondering what could have been when it comes to Goochland. Coach Fruth and his Bulldogs are sitting on a powerhouse, waiting to explode and chase another state title. Perhaps it’s selfish of me, but I hope they get that chance.
I also believe that VHSL officials should be commended for making these tough decisions and remaining committed to the safety of its athletes and the fans who so ardently support them.
And while its usually the high school players emulating college and professional players, this might be a unique opportunity for the college players and professionals to take a page from a book of amateurs. As many colleges prepare to begin a fall campaign, it feels risky and uncertain.
The very nature of football leads us all to scratch our heads and wonder what form of social distancing is possible when players are banging heads on each and every play.
While some could justify allowing professionals to pursue this course, it’s hard to imagine any reasoning that would justify playing in the fall for college football players.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not unlike millions of Americans who miss sports, and the thought of those empty Friday nights and Saturdays without college football is disheartening.
But, quite honestly, we have bigger fish to fry as a country, and this is only temporary.
That certainly doesn’t make it any easier as we sit home on Friday nights this fall envisioning what could have been happening on the field in Goochland. No doubt, we’ll all miss it, and remain hopeful that spring football will signify a return to normalcy, and another chance to chase that championship.