Bland football field empty

Despite football practice ramping up around the region, the field in Bland County was quiet after news broke that the Bland County Bears would not be playing in the 2019 fall season. 

BASTIAN, Va. — Bland County’s football field was quiet Friday while the community absorbed the news that there would be no high school football season this year.

Social media reports that appeared Thursday and were confirmed later by a coach in a program scheduled to play Bland County that the Bland County Bears would not be playing this year. Area residents were wondering Friday what this loss would mean for the future of football and other programs.

“It just breaks my heart,” said Maggie Harless, an employee at the Bland County Board of Education. “I love football and there’s not a lot here that brings everybody together; but on Friday nights, everybody came together.”

Besides being a fan, Harless said she coached football from 1994 to 1998 when other coaches were not available. She regularly attended the games and other activities, and other members of her family either played football or were involved in other ways.

“They came to me and asked if I could help,” she recalled. “At that time none of the coaches were school employees and I was, and I was always there.”

One tradition that will end along with Friday night games is the Fifth Quarter, the after-game party hosted at the nearby Bastion Union Church. 

“All the kids would go and have games and have a good time,” Harless said.

Harless said the football program has to compete for participants with other extracurricular activities.

“If you don’t have the numbers, you don’t have the numbers,” she stated. “There are about 120 boys between the ninth grade and the twelfth grade.”

She said another loss will be the opportunity for students to work with Coach Harris Hart, who has been a good influence for them.

“I’m sorry they won’t get that,” Harless said.

Bland County head football coach Harris Hart was unavailable for comment Friday.

Businesses could also feel the loss of the football program.

“I think it’s heartbreaking,” Dreama Coburn, manager of nearby Pizza Plus. “It’s heartbreaking and I think it’s going to affect my business because of Friday nights. I hate it for the businesses here, but I hate it more for the children. I’ve got a grandson who played football. I don’t know if he planned to play this year.”

Coburn said that her restaurant baked between 40 to 50 pizzas about once a year for the Fifth Quarter party, and fans often stopped by on game days. The football and the party was a way to keep children out of trouble.

One of the restaurant’s employees, Victoria Perry of Bastian, Va., said she was in cross-country track when she attended high school, but her boyfriend played on the football team. 

“I think it’s just sad. I don’t know what to say about it. I mean, it’s just crazy. It’s sad,” she said of the lost football season.

Families who don’t have boys playing football were still touched by the canceled season.

“I did hear about that,” Candice O’Brien of Bland, Va. said. “My cousin’s daughter is in the band and she’s pretty bummed out. She’s pretty upset about it because it was a big part of the band. I guess they’re going to go to more competitions. But we’ve just heard about it. From what she told me, it was a very big surprise for them.”

In nearby Rocky Gap, Va., one county resident wondered if there would be any athletic programs in Bland County.

“I just hope they don’t get rid of basketball,” Susie Darby of Rocky Gap, Va. said, adding, “When you take away something that teaches honor and discipline and respect, what’s next? Because children are not learning that with those (video) games. They’re learning aggression and getting into their own little world.”

 — Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com