Beaver-Graham

Gov. Jim Justice speaks during the pre-game presentation for the big Beaver-Graham game in 2019.

BLUEFIELD — The annual Beaver-Graham football game has been postponed.

Graham High School Athletic Director Matt Dixon confirmed the delay in the big game Friday afternoon.

Following the announcement from West Virginia Governor Jim Justice that high school football games would begin on September 3 instead of the prior week, it eliminated the chance of the game being played August 28.

Graham was scheduled as the home team for this year’s game against Bluefield and both administrations will try to find another suitable date should there be a football season this fall.

Governor Jim Justice announced earlier in the day Friday that high school football games around the state won’t start until Thursday, Sept. 3, and restrictions will be in place including limited attendance and a requirement that spectators wear masks.

Bernie Dolan, president of the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVASSAC), said full practice will start on Aug. 17.

Dolan made the announcement during Gov. Jim Justice’s pandemic briefing Friday afternoon, adding that spectators will be allowed but masks will be required as well social distancing.

“Attendance may be limited,” he said, but the details are still to be worked out depending on how the pandemic situation develops.

“Athletics play an important role in all of our lives,” he said. “It’s our role to keep them (athletes) safe.”

How successful it will be depends on the public’s cooperation.

“We know everybody wants athletics,” Dolan said, but everyone will have to do their part.

Dolan said golf competitions can start Aug. 24 and other sports’ games including volleyball, cross country and soccer can begin on Sept. 2.

These dates fit in with the Sept. 8 start of school, he added.

“This is a great opportunity for our kids and our schools to be the center of their communities again and the hub and to drive what goes on in their communities,” he said, adding that all coaches and players, who continue to have limited practices, are “excited to be back.”

Dolan also said the WVSSAC is looking at the details of how to handle the situation if a player tests positive during the season.

That may mean a team could miss playing a game, he said.

Justice said the bottom line is to protect the kids and to do that everyone must wear a mask to protect themselves and protect others.

“We are going to protect our kids and all of those working with our kids,” he said, adding how important sports teams are to residents. “They are important to our communities and it brings us together.”

Justice also emphasized that the situation is a moving target with COVID-19.

“We all know we may have to change and we may have to change again,” he said of the details of the protocol with games. “We don’t know what this is going to do.”

Justice announced earlier this week schools will open Sept. 8 with safety protocols in place.

Clayton Burch, state superintendent of schools, was on hand for the briefing and said superintendents from all 55 counties have been involved in the planning to return to schools and putting together contingency plans.

“We want our children coming back as normal as possible,” he said, and as safely as possible with whatever modifications are needed.

By Sept. 8, all counties will be ready, he said.

Burch also said teachers are “on point” with knowing where students are after the long break and they will make sure preparations are solid and in place.

“The situation is a moving target,” Justice said. “We will formulate plans and adjust those plans as we go.”

On Wednesday, the state Department of Education released “school system re-entry & recovery guidance.”

Possible scenarios include in-person and/or blended instruction (reduced days or hours), existing virtual options, or full remote learning if needed. The decision on which particular scenario is used will be made by local systems since counties vary in their situations with the pandemic.

Justice also once again on Friday said wearing a mask is crucial, pointing specifically to Monongalia County, which has seen a recent spike to the point he is considering closing bars and indoor dining.

The county has 246 active cases, he said, and has had more than 400 in all.

“We need to understand that my Executive Order (to wear a mask) said mandatory in public buildings,” he said. “We have held the reins back as far as including some kind of penalty (for non-compliance). We don’t want to go in that direction.”

Justice said he is not ready yet to close bars and indoor dining, but it cannot get out of control, especially considering schools will start soon.

“We are trying to manage the risk,” he said, adding that the only “bullet” he has right now in his arsenal to fight the virus is the mask, and the “next bullet is to shut the state back down.”

He also announced that the Mercer County Health Department will offer free virus testing again on July 17, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com, and contact Eric Walker at sports@bdtonline.com

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