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Dolan more optimistic regarding possible return of high school sports

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Don’t waive the white flag just yet.

Twenty-four hours after estimating high school athletics in West Virginia were nearing a point of no return, Bernie Dolan, West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission Executive Director, was far more upbeat about the prospect of finishing basketball season and having spring sports in the not too distant future.

Dolan, who was on a conference call with WVSSAC officials Thursday, says it all hinges on the reopening of schools. They’re closed statewide until at least April 20 due to COVID-19, with Gov. Jim Justice announcing the recent extension to the closure Wednesday.

“If we go back to school on the 21st (of April), we’ll be able to finish the basketball tournament,” Dolan said, “and then have a shortened spring season and try to condense those championships so they can have a meaningful regular season and postseason.”

It’s been two weeks since the girls basketball state tournament came to a halt following the completion of nine of 21 games. Class AA boys regional co-finals were postponed, although Class AAA and Class A teams had already secured spots in the state tournament.

Should basketball season resume, Dolan anticipates both state tournaments would be held at the Charleston Coliseum, though it currently is not allowing events with more than 250 people.

“We think the venue will be available for the most part,” Dolan said. “The other concern is how many people are going to be allowed to attend? Is it going to be open to all fans or down to just players and coaches? Those are the two extremes and it’ll probably be somewhere in the middle of that. But we think the important part is trying to give the kids a meaningful season.”

For baseball and softball, two spring sports that are normally double elimination in sectional postseason play, changes would likely occur to the playoff format.

“We at least think sectionals will be single elimination,” Dolan said. “We’re not sure about the format for regionals. We think since you’re down to just two teams, you can do a best-of-three (series).”

Even with condensed seasons, spring sports would need extended well beyond the time frame they normally end. WVSSAC officials are willing to go into June to finish, and Dolan recalled the 1994 state track and field meet on June 16 after a measles outbreak.

“Somewhere in that range is about as far out that we’d push this,” Dolan said.

Although spring sports teams had already begun practice, Dolan anticipates they’ll need to restart the WVSSAC-mandated 14 practices prior to playing games if and when they resume. 

“We’re going to be at least a month away from the last time they practiced,” he said. “It’s a rule that’s put in for safety. I don’t think we’re going to take any shortcuts on safety, so I would anticipate all 14 days for everybody having to be a factor.”

Should schools face another extension to their closure beyond April 20, it would likely signal the end of all high school sports in the Mountain State for this school year.

“If there is a prolonged closure of school, that means things aren’t going well in the community health wise,” Dolan said. “Then athletics becomes a small part of what’s really going on. If the virus is still rapidly changing, then the right thing would be to not have the tournament.

“I know everybody wants to know what we’re doing, but we’re all just guessing at this point.”