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Nick Carroll

Weird. Different. Strange. Odd. Bizarre. 

Adjectives used to describe the atmosphere of opening week.  

Officially, Week 1 started at 9 p.m. on Saturday, August 29, with the posting of the inaugural 55-county, quad-colored map. At 9:05 p.m., the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) played the role of referee, tossing penalty flags on Kanawha, Fayette, Logan, Mingo and Wyoming Counties. 

School events were sent to the penalty box for committing misconduct penalties including “Illegal Average Rate ... on the COVID ... the result of the penalty is a 7-day game suspension.” 

Monroe received an additional misconduct penalty for serious COVID infractions, resulting in a red card and an automatic ejection from practices as well. 

Just 8 minutes later at 9:13 p.m., the DHHR acted like a mindless toddler with a box of Crayolas, modifying Wyoming County from Orange to Yellow.

Once the “official official” color map was confirmed, the Eastern Panhandle breathed a sigh of relief as athletics opened for business. Well, kind of. Protesters from powerful political counties influenced Gov. Justice to overrule Harvard map metrics once again, as he declared testing of all student-athletes, coaches and essential gameday personal.  

School administrators sniffed out the political power play adhering to the guidelines saying, thanks, but no thanks.

Monongalia County resembled an apple in late autumn, with skin tones turning from a Golden Delicious on Sunday to a Red Delicious by Friday. 

Former Trojan signal-caller, Sean Biser, had his Mohigan debut canceled against Class AAA newcomer Bridgeport in the tastiest contest of Week 1.

183 days had passed since I last covered a Trojan contest. 

On March 5, the Hampshire cagers were eliminated from sectionals after losing to host Washington.  Following the game, I interviewed a devastated Coach Danny Alkire as we discussed the similarities of season-ending losses in back-to-back years in the Patriot gym. Little did I know, I wouldn’t cover another SSAC game until September.

Hampshire volleyball broke the streak with a game against Frankfort on Thursday night. 

As I hopped out of the car, my emotions were conflicted. Guilty, delighted, rusty, worried, and of course, a little overwhelmed as I made my way to the Hampshire gym. As I touched the doorhandle, suddenly it hit me, I forgot my Trojan mask. 

As I jogged back to my car to retrieve my mouth protector, it was easy to navigate the parking lot as open spaces awaited the arrival of more fans.

The steady drizzling rain and never ending cloudy skies symbolized the gloom of high school fans denied admission. Luckily for me, I had the ultimate Golden Ticket in my pocket (aka. SSAC Media Credentials). 

Ten-minutes prior to 1st serve, I scurried down the tunnel and opened the green doors to enter Hampshire High. A woman sitting quietly behind a foldout table greeted me with a mask-muffled, “Hello.” I nodded my head and whipped out my media pass to gain admission. While she inspected the authenticity of my credential, I stared at the 4 sheets of paper that listed preauthorized attendees.

My name was excluded from the VIP list, but the power of my valid Golden Ticket allowed my access.

In a matter of months the process of attending games has transformed into the process of entering Studio 54, VIP only.

I skimmed the VIP list and notice the familiar last names of parents with a few siblings spattered in. The absence of students was prevalent. 

After approval from the Hampshire bouncer, I made my way to the concession stand, but the aroma of popcorn was nonexistent as the candy shop was closed. 

The commons resembled a ghost town as a living creature was nowhere in sight. No conversations about the weather. No pregame predictions with arriving fans. No small town gossip or political chatter. No kids sprinting past me with handful of coins to purchase their packets of Starburst.  

The music in the gym was loud but aesthetically the environment felt empty, which correlated with the so-called rap blaring overhead. The biggest and most obvious void was the empty rows of bleachers that previously housed the Hampshire Havoc. 

I saw a few players shed a tear during the national anthem and I struggled to keep my emotions in check. 

The student section was certainly missed, but the players made the best of it.

I got a real chortle from the actions of 1 Trojan as she embraced the awkwardness of the situation with humor.  

Emi Smith has set the bar high with the best social distance celebration of 2020 after winning a point against Frankfort. 

When the Hampshire players were coming together to huddle after winning a point, Emi raised her arms in the air and gave a mock hand-to-the-face spin move and staying 6-feet apart instead of joining the traditional group hug celebration. As Emi spun on the hardwood, a grin from ear to ear stretched across her face as she lightened the mood of everyone in the gym, humorously acknowledging the awkwardness everyone felt.

With the rules only recently updated, players were permitted to play without masks, however, when on the bench, masks are required at all times. 

This led to several players on both teams having an absent mind and entering the game while sporting a mouth covering.  

A light chuckle from the parents helped reduce tensions as kids felt embarrassed, yet human, as everyone in the gym can relate to many mask snafus since March (see me entering the gym).

Perhaps laughter at innocent mishaps is the best medicine for living with COVID. o

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