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Myrtle Beach and Loris scrimmage on Saturday morning with COVID-19 restrictions in place. Loris players kept their belongings in small buckets with their names written on duct tape.Those on the sidelines wore masks and fans were spaced apart in the stands. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

The term “fluid situation” has become a cliche the last few months.

But the thing about cliches is that they’re usually based heavily in truth. Josh Spivey knows that better than most.

The Aynor athletics director is putting the finishing touches on his football team’s season opener at Lakewood on Friday. And since that game was not made official until last week, it was every bit the mad scramble amid the chaos of COVID-19.

In fact, Lakewood wasn’t the squad the Blue Jackets were scheduled to play this week. They weren’t the second or even the third.

“If you go back to our original schedule, we were originally supposed to play St. James. So this is our fourth opponent,” Spivey said. “Things just didn’t work out. McBee didn’t work out. Timberland didn’t work out. We kind of fell in each other’s laps, so to speak, with Lakewood.”

The game against St. James was dropped when the South Carolina High School League shortened the season and put a premium on region games. Then, thanks to an odd number of region teams, this week was slated to be one of the Blue Jackets’ three non-region openings — or an off week if the team decided.

Aynor picked up a game against McBee, only to see that school cancel. Aynor shifted to Timberland, which then canceled for what Spivey said were “logistical” reasons.

As of the middle of last week, coach Jason Allen’s team was still without a Week 1 opponent, and that’s when Lakewood’s schedule opened up.

According to multiple reports, Camden — Lakewood’s original opponent for this week — was forced to postpone when two players tested positive for COVID-19. Aynor and Lakewood got in touch and agreed to play almost immediately.

It will be the next step in what is likely to be a fluid season.

“We have cause to be optimistic and thankful for the opportunity,” Spivey said. “As we’ve seen, there are going to be some cancellations due to problems within teams. Our goal is to proceed as long as it’s safe, as long as we’re able to. That’s our ultimate goal.”

Home game protocols

While Aynor, North Myrtle Beach (at Hartsville) and St. James (at Conway) will be on the road this week, the other six Horry County varsity football teams will be at home.

That means more responsibility.

Carolina Forest, Conway, Green Sea Floyds, Loris, Myrtle Beach and Socastee will all be charged with ensuring safe environments for teams and the limited number of spectators who will be allowed.

“We plan on being successful Friday night in terms of managing all the protocols,” Myrtle Beach Athletics Director John Cahill said. “We’ve had a lot of what-if scenarios with the coaches and the athletic trainers. We’re all reading a lot more than we ever have. We’re doing more Zoom meetings than we ever have.”

It was all in preparation for this week.

Although high schools around the district and state have already started other sports, nothing draws a crowd like football. It’s why six of the schools elected to utilize an online-only ticketing program. And while all nine are only selling tickets in advance (Aynor, Green Sea Floyds and Loris fans may purchase those in person, but nothing is sold after noon on game days).

For most schools, parents of players, cheerleaders, band members and JROTC get priority for up to four tickets each, followed by booster club members and then the general public.

In bigger games, various athletics directors believe tickets will be gone before they are available to the general public. That’s because no school’s attendance capacity will exceed 1,000 seated fans. That includes the area’s four Class 5A programs and Myrtle Beach, which has the largest capacity in Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium.

There is some variation from venue to venue in terms of those figures. However, certain protocols will be universal.

• Fans and non-playing personnel are required to wear face masks throughout the contest;

• Home and visiting fans will be separated throughout;

• Social distancing is expected throughout the game, and rows will be blocked off to help maintain the distance;

• Venues will be cleared immediately after the conclusion of the games, and fans will not be allowed on the field.

For specific regulations on ticketing, visit the home school’s athletics web site.

It just means more

For years, the first four or five games of the year for most teams was little more than a warm-up for the region slate.

This season couldn’t look much different in that regard.

With teams steered toward playing region games first, it means that the opening week of the regular season will be huge for most. Of the nine Horry County programs, only Aynor and Carolina Forest are playing non-region opponents. For the others, the next few weeks could have a make-or-break feel.

That’s especially true given that the football playoffs were cut in half, meaning that just the top two teams from each region — not the top four, as is usually the case locally — will earn a playoff trip. Lose the first game then, and you could be possibly need to run the table just to keep playoff hopes alive. However, win that opener and next week, and all of a sudden you’re in great position down the stretch.

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