Long awaited season and a bit of normalcy (we hope) returns Friday night

By John Herndon

For Glicod Communications

August 20 might be the most anticipated kickoff to the high school football season in Kentucky since someone found a flat field 100 yards long and tried to move an oblong ball past an opponent’s goal line.

Normal football is back in Kentucky high schools.

Well, sort of.

A year after the signature line on the Kentucky High School Athletic Association scoreboard might have been “COVID-19 cancelation, RPI per policy,” players and coaches are just ready to get with it on Friday nights.

“I think everyone is just happy to have some sense of normalcy,” South Oldham coach Jamie Reed said when we sat down to talk about the Dragons on July 26.

It was a sentiment heard over and over again throughout the summer.

A year ago, Friday nights just had a surreal aura about them. There were so many changes made in the interest of keeping kids safe that would have seemed nothing short of bizarre in 2019 and before. 

For example, at Anderson County, the cheerleaders were stationed beyond the end zone, 30 yards or more from the nearest fan. But, given that Anderson’s stadium is situated very close to the playing field — there is no track at the stadium — and that extra space was needed for social distancing on the sideline, there really was no other alternative. 

The team bench areas, which are normally between the 25-yard lines, were extended to the 10s to give more room for social distancing on the sidelines. That practice will be continued in 2021.

And it provided an unexpected benefit to coaching staffs. “We liked it. We were able to go farther down the field to communicate with the kids,” says Oldham County head coach TaShawn McBroom, who was a Colonel assistant in 2020.

Footballs were taken out of play and sanitized often. Coaches wore masks on the sidelines and, at most venues, someone was armed with an infrared thermometer to take the temperature of all who came through the gates.

There were so many protocols some jokesters were asking if a ball carrier was contained down if a defender came within six feet.

It wasn’t a joke about the seriousness of COVID. It’s deadly nature was apparent early on, but reality was that a virus no one can see made drastic changes in the game we love.

We’re just ready to talk more about the Top 10 or the playoff picture than whether a game will even be played. We’re ready for normal. We’re ready for some football.

To be sure, there are some issues still to navigate. When we thought COVID-19 was in our rear view mirrors, we started hearing about something called a Delta Variant.

I would rather hear the Delta Blues.

But less than a month before the first kickoff, that variant started looking like a speeding 18-wheeler filling your rear view mirror on I-64.

“Well, we felt everything over the summer was rolling along pretty smoothly and then all of a sudden the COVID cases started ramping up pretty significantly by the end of July,” Spencer County coach Mike Marksbury said in an email.

The Bears open the season Friday night at Anderson County.

“As of now, everyone is ‘normal’ for outdoor sports,” Anderson athletic director Jesse Currens said. “There is an updated return to sports guideline from the KHSAA but most of that is recommended and left up to each local authority.”

Most coaches just want to have a season without interruption.

Reed told of getting his team ready to play  only to have Friday’s opponent call at midweek saying it was quarantined due to COVID. On Thursday afternoon, he was able to get a game at Meade County but took a 20-17 loss.

I didn’t want to have my kids prepare all week and then not be able to play,” Reed remembered. “We were fortunate to be able to go play Meade County that week.”

As the season opens Friday, the Delta variant looms. Those in charge of the kids know there is a chance a bit of 2020 might return this fall. But right now, everyone seems to be optimistic,

“If I need to wear a mask on the sideline, I don’t mind that if the kids can play,” McBroom said.

“Last year, with COVID, caught up with us,” Reed said. “We didn’t start doing real football until August last year. This offseason was as normal as previous years.

“One of the things about high school sports is you have to adjust to what you have coming through your door. Last year, after COVID, we learned we have to be even more flexible.”

Marksbury adds, “It’s been nice to have a somewhat normal summer. I hope everyone is able to stay safe and the kids have the opportunity to stay in school and compete on the fields and courts.”

Random thoughts…

****With the passage of Senate Bill 128, some Kentucky high schools will have fifth-year seniors lining up.  Perhaps the most notable fifth-year player is Beecwood’s Cam Hergott, who returned to school after winning Mr. Football a year ago. It is the first time someone with that award will be suiting up for another year of high school football.

There are some other notable fifth-year seniors playing but in the Glicod area, the Oldham County Board of Education elected to not allow students a “do over” year. The rule will undoubtedly have an impact on football but how much remains to be seen.

****I am new to Glicod and jumped at the chance to write the preview for South Oldham football. During my years as sports editor of The Anderson News, I became a big fan of Dragon coach Jamie Reed as I had seen the incredible job he was doing at South Oldham from a distance. Unfortunately, I had never met him in person.

South football was like most high programs for years. You know, several strong years, then some down years. From 2007-2009, I had seen the Anderson County teams I covered take four easy wins over South, then a district rival.

But in 2010, Jamie Reed arrived from Georgia and South was no longer an automatic W. From the sidelines, I watched the Dragons get better each year and I saw fan participation and excitement grow exponentially.

As we talked, Reed credited the South Oldham administration “I can’t say what the administration did before, but they have really been on our side,” he said. “It takes a great administration to win ball games. 

“We have had the support of our administrators and then, of course, we have had good coaches on our staff. Then when you start winning some games, you have a community buy in. It goes back to we are not going to do anything fancy.”

Nothing fancy, except hoisting trophies. While the Dragons have never made the state finals, they had won eight consecutive district championships before faltering last fall. It’s not at the top of the state’s ladder but it’s on a very high rung.

“It’s just a blue collar approach,” Reed said. “We just put our head down and we have been blessed to find success.”

****I’ll see you for Friday Night Lights in Kentucky. This week: Spencer County at Anderson County.

John Herndon is a freelance writer living in Lawrenceburg. He retired as sports editor of The Anderson News in 2018 after 34 years covering Anderson County sports. He will be traveling around the Bluegrass this fall. You can read his observations each week at Glicod.com.