COVID-19 has introduced plenty of chaos and disruption to the sports world over the past six months, but no one could have foreseen its local impact on the first two weeks of high school football.
A rearranged schedule that touched nine schools in two different states has led to the 11th-hour resurrection of a county rivalry game and added plenty of intrigue to Week 0 and Week 1 of the local high school football season.
It’s a complicated tapestry of rescheduling that required the cooperation of three of the county’s four schools and ended with a product that’s sure to make most county football fans happy with the results.
Handley vs. RCHS will still play for the first time in five years, a pair of 2016 state championship teams will now meet for the first time since 2013, and the dreaded departure of the Grocery Bowl between RCHS and Woodland is a thing of the past.
Here are the events that transpired to bring about these changes.
Woodland-Wilkinson County game cancelled
Woodland was scheduled to play Wilkinson County, Ga., in Week 1 of the regular season, but then Georgia moved its high school football schedule back two weeks. At first it appeared the two teams would still be able to play, albeit one week later, since both of their off weeks now lined up.
But then the Randolph County school board nixed that, saying it would not permit any of its schools to travel outside of the state to play due to the pandemic (a decision that affected only Woodland).
That gave Woodland the undesired situation of having back-to-back open weeks after playing just one game.
Woodland and coach Blair Armstrong now needed a game in either Week 1 or Week 2 to avoid that situation.
Hold that thought.
LaFayette, Macon County schools cancel games
LaFayette was scheduled to play Handley in an August 21 (Week 0) preseason contest but pulled out of that game out of concerns over the virus. Then the Macon County school system, which includes Notasulga and Booker T. Washington, told its schools they could not play games in August, according to Handley head coach Larry Strain. Strain found that out after he called Booker T. Washington to see they would replace LaFayette in Week 0, which of course they couldn’t.
Coincidentally Macon County’s decision also left RCHS without its Week 0 opponent Notasulga.
That meant that both Handley and RCHS, who were originally scheduled to play August 28, both suddenly had an open date on August 21.
Handley secures game against Beauregard
After those first two turns of events, everything else kind of happened simultaneously on Monday, but none of it would have been feasible unless Handley could get a new Week 1 opponent.
If Strain was going to move his game with RCHS to Week 0 he needed a Week 1 game because otherwise he would have two empty dates in the first four weeks of the season after the Georgia schedule shuffle left him without his Week 3 game against Lamar County, Ga.
That issue was resolved when Strain and Beauregard coach Rob Carter struck a deal to play August 28. Beauregard was available that week because they lost Booker T. Washington from that spot in the schedule (see “Macon County” above).
With RCHS and Handley now cleared to move their game to August 21, that freed up RCHS to play Woodland the following week, which Armstrong readily agreed to.
The final result
Well, nothing is final in this era of COVID-19. But as it stands right now, August 21 will see RCHS play at Handley in what will technically be a preseason game. Then August 28 RCHS and Woodland will meet (location to be determined) and Handley will travel to Beauregard.
It’s a win-win-win for three county schools involved in the shuffle and an example of three coaches who know how to effectively solve problems on the fly.