Allen mug

Allen Gregory 

It’s 10 a.m. on a sunbaked practice field in far Southwest Virginia.

As some residents around the football-crazed region fret about the spread of an invisible but deadly enemy, a hearty group of athletes pushes through a 45-minute workout of sprints, drills and exercises.

The news regarding the COVID-19 pandemic on a local and national level is grim, yet there is a sense of optimism and spirit here even among the coaches who watch and sweat behind facial covering.

For the past two weeks, football teams around Virginia have been allowed to participate in voluntary workouts.

With no spectators allowed and social distancing measures in place, this setting is more suited to an episode of The Twilight Zone instead of a Norman Rockwell painting of small-town America.

As the number of COVID-19 cases increases, the odds of opening the prep football season on time lessens. The same challenges exist in college football.

For good season, school administrators and athletic directors are afraid of losing the income that comes with tickets and concessions at home games. Football not only generates school pride, it basically funds entire athletic programs.

The butterfly effect of football extends to business owners who depend on those Friday night and Saturday night afternoon financial infusions from excited fans.

At this point, the goal is to simply salvage a season in whatever form.

At the high school level, options include pushing back the first game for several weeks or months, piecing together a condensed schedule, or moving the entire season to the spring.

Many camps and 7-on-7 tournaments have already been canceled.

The stakes and emotions are high, and there are no easy answers or superheroes prepared to save the day.

And that brings us back to those young athletes who have been enduring workouts in the mid-June heat while keeping their eyes on the prize.

During tours of three area schools over the past two weeks, there were few long faces and little bickering about the heat. There were plenty of smiles, jokes and laughs.

Following three months of anxiety and inactivity, high school kids are happy to be back in the mix.

In recent weeks, area baseball fields have been full of high school summer teams and travel ball squads from several states. Many Little League parks have been busy as well.

Alas, the use of facial covering remains low in shopping centers, ball parks, race tracks and other public settings. Some football coaches have even overlooked Virginia High School League guidelines regarding face masks during workouts.

Of course, that’s a big reason why our region and country is grappling with the COVID-19 monster.

Unless the upward trend in cases slows, football fans will soon be confronted with a grim reality. No matter where you turn or what you believe, we’re facing a fourth-and-long situation.

But for now, we can all gain take some comfort and inspiration from those determined young athletes who continue to grind away at their gridiron dreams and hope for a positive turn to this long-running national nightmare.

agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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