Contradicting statements, social media rhetoric, few public statements from those directly involved and more questions than solid answers were left in the wake of the last few days.
At the center of it all was the St. James junior varsity football game at Sumter last Thursday. While many details are not 100% clear, what both Horry County Schools and the Sumter School District have agreed upon is that some St. James players who later tested positive for COVID-19 practiced earlier in the week with teammates who participated in the game.
And now both teams are in quarantine and are in jeopardy of not taking another snap this fall.
The news, originally reported by the Post & Courier, led to two-plus days of finger pointing. It also led to a near-universal lock-down of public comment outside of releases from both Horry County and Sumter.
The list of people MyHorryNews.com attempted to reach who either declined to comment or did not return messages includes South Carolina High School League Commissioner Jerome Singleton, St. James Principal Vann Pennell and Athletics Director Billy Hurston, and Sumter Athletics Director Curtis Johnson, among others.
That didn’t stop at least one of them and several staff members of both schools from leaving comments on Facebook and/or Twitter claiming one side of the story or the other.
Hurston, though his personal Facebook page, went as far as to call it the “Most irresponsible reporting I’ve ever seen.”
Through league spokesperson Tammie Newman, Singleton’s position of leaving these types of situations up to the individual districts was reinforced. But what happens when the two districts are in disagreement?
THEY SAID, THEY SAID
On Monday afternoon, nearly four full days after the game in question, Horry County Schools released a lengthy diary of the entire week.
Among the most important items:
• The St. James JV program practiced together Monday and Tuesday of last week (although a previously sent statement initially said they practiced Wednesday, too).
• On Wednesday, two players were sent to the nurse with potential COVID-19 symptoms.
• On Thursday, both players in question tested positive for COVID-19; neither made the trip to Sumter.
• Prior to the beginning of the game, the SJHS coaching staff did notify Sumter coaches, Sumter athletic officials and game referees/officiants regarding the positive SJHS players and [South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s] determination that the game could continue as originally scheduled.
• On Friday, a junior varsity staff member also tested positive, initiating a full team quarantine from school and extracurricular activities (per DHEC’s three-in-a-cohort standard). It was not immediately clear if that staff member was on the trip to Sumter.
• As of Monday morning, no other St. James junior varsity players or staff members had tested positive or displayed symptoms (it wasn’t clear how many were tested).
The release itself was highly comprehensive.
However, it was also contradicted by a release from Sumter that was sent out Sunday evening.
"Unfortunately, when the St. James High School junior varsity football team competed at Sumter High School Thursday, school officials were not identified about positive COVID-19 cases on the opposing team," the Sumter release said.
Since sports resumed in early September, quarantines at St. James have included the cheer team, volleyball (twice) and now the junior varsity football team. Both the Waccamaw and Loris volleyball teams instituted quarantines last week after playing St. James.
With COVID-19 regulations, the Waccamaw and Loris volleyball teams could miss the state playoffs after previously qualifying.
The on-field impacts reminded other coaches, especially those on the varsity football level, just how fragile this season is. And they’ve started to take even more precautions.
PROTECTING THE SEASON
A follow up to Horry County Schools’s statement led to an additional comment (again, through Bourcier) that to the district’s knowledge no St. James varsity players coaches or staff members were affected by the Sharks’ junior varsity cases.
However, while that was the immediate concern, several coaches and athletics directors also semi-publicly questioned how easily a similar occurrence could happen during the varsity playoffs or the weeks leading up to it.
As early as Sunday morning, mere hours after the initial Post and Courier story was published online, varsity football coaches around the area and state told MyHorryNews.com they were re-assessing their interest in playing non-region games over the final three weeks of the regular season. That’s because the high school league has already informed membership that the state playoffs will not be delayed if a team has to quarantine. Considering teams often have to quarantine after third-party exposures, there is next to no room for error.
To sacrifice a postseason trip for a non-region game — even a home game when the school can pocket a few bucks in gate receipts — isn’t worth possibly missing the postseason.
Several coaches said they may ultimately make last-minute cancellations of non-region games if the game’s safety doesn’t feel as perfect as possible. In short, the St. James-Sumter situation was a reminder that playing non-region games is a serious roll of the dice.
So far locally, Loris, Carolina Forest, Conway and Green Sea Floyds have lost non-region games to outside COVID-19 dominoes. None of the latter three replaced Oct. 30 games that were lost because of it. More cancellations could be on the way.
These are the next reverberations from football in the fall of 2020.