It took us one week to roll the dice.
One game to decide we had done enough to get here. One Friday under the lights to tear up the social contracts we all agreed to sign.
Fans, media members, even school personnel played a dangerous game in last week’s South Carolina High School League football openers. Masks appeared optional once inside the gates. Social distancing was little more than a joke for bad defensive play.
A disregard for personal responsibility and the SCHSL’s return-to-play protocols put everything we wanted at risk.
I saw those most basic of protocols consistently ignored at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium Friday evening. Adults jammed their get-through-the-gates masks into their pockets and the student section crammed in close to the fence line. After Myrtle Beach — Class 4A’s top-ranked team with the potential to win another state championship — had decimated Darlington on the field, fans clustered near the players’s exit, making basic movement in the area seem just like a regular ol’ game.
The behavior wasn’t relegated to Doug Shaw.
By Saturday morning, I heard similar comments from school officials or parents at Socastee, Conway and Carolina Forest. Had Green Sea Floyds or Loris not had their home games postponed, I’m guessing it would have been the same.
The screams we heard all summer about what student-athletes deserved were deafened by the displays of personal comfort.
Believe it’s not important or that we’d already done enough? Believe COVID-19 is overblown by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control? Believe masks and social distancing don’t work? Fine.
But ask Hilton Head or Lexington or River Bluff or Aiken or South Aiken or Calhoun Falls or Strom Thurmond or Ware Shoals or any others I missed how much they hated hearing about other teams do their thing while they sat at home. All of those schools swear they were doing everything right during the practices leading up to their season openers.
Then, they all found out all it took was one positive test or contact tracing back to a position meeting to shut it down. The school districts and DHEC aren’t going to mess around with player safety and lawsuits — and certainly not for the gate receipts that will trickle in with extremely reduced stadium capacity.
Everyone is going to err on the side of caution. Because of it, a few football teams in South Carolina have already seen their regular seasons cut from seven games to five; at least two programs so far will max out at four. This is only the beginning.
The Horry County programs who play on school campuses and the city of Myrtle Beach (which shares responsibilities for Doug Shaw) created standards for their home and away bleachers. Athletics directors and HCS officials got creative with tape and ribbon and signs. They’ve been at the stadiums well past sundown and well before it rises again the next day, scratching their head while counting and re-counting — all in an attempt to make this work.
All summer, parents and unaffiliated fans alike told us losing football wouldn’t be fair. The players, especially the seniors, deserved to play, deserved to have that part of their childhood not stripped away, deserved to have the opportunity to create those memories, deserved to compete.
I agree. They’ve been given that chance.
And they deserve our very best effort to keep it that way.
Room for error is at an all-time low. That’s the new normal we should understand. And we should fight like hell to keep what we have.