Last week, Stillwater High School football coach Ian Godfrey’s team was slated to play Cambridge/Salem . . . then, Cairo-Durham/Catskill for a day . . . then, Cohoes . . . and, finally, there was a chance the program could face Hudson Falls.
Stillwater never snapped the ball against any of them.
“Last week was such a strange week,” Godfrey said earlier this week. “Every day, something was changing, something was evolving.”
Welcome to Section II football in this spring’s “Fall II” season, a campaign created to house high school sports that didn’t play last fall because of issues related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which continues to make administering a season difficult. Football isn’t the only high school sport being contested this March and April that is dealing with pandemic-related issues, but the once-a-week nature of the sport’s competition schedule makes each disruption that much more glaring and burdensome to navigate.
Week 4 kicks off Friday. Each of the football season’s first three weeks have seen schedules forced to be adjusted with regularity as some programs find out they’re unable to play because of COVID-19 protocols, leaving others to scramble to find new opponents on short notice.
There are 54 Section II teams playing varsity football during this “Fall II” season. If every team had played a game each week, the area would have had 81 games played prior to the start of Week 4 — but, according to game results and records compiled by The Daily Gazette, only 58 games have been played. Some of the missing games are due to reasons not directly related to the pandemic, such as teams electing to scrimmage rather than play official games, but the majority of the missing 23 games — 28.4% of total potential games — have not been played because of reasons related to the pandemic.
How frenetic can it get?
Well, look at how last week broke down for Stillwater, which won the Section II Class C championship in 2019.
It’s original opponent, Cambridge/Salem, was unavailable to play for the second-consecutive week because of pandemic-related reasons. Stillwater’s second potential foe, Cairo-Durham/Catskill — which lost its original opponent because of a mandated quarantine — ended up playing a different team that had lost its opponent. Cohoes was next up for Stillwater, but became unavailable as the week progressed. Finally, Hudson Falls — which lost its scheduled game against Broadalbin-Perth because some of its team members were in COVID-19 quarantine — was available to play Stillwater, but the schools decided against playing on such short notice.
“Every single day, your practice schedule can get thrown off, your scouting schedule can get thrown off, you think you’re playing [one team], poof, now you’re not, you don’t get your opponent’s film until later in the week,” Mohonasen football coach John Gallo said. “We’ve really had to be flexible and preach flexibility that you can only control what you can control.”
For Scotia-Glenville, the loss of its Week 1 game was not within its control. That week’s opponent, Queensbury, ended up unable to play its first two games of the season because of COVID-19 protocols.
“That [postponement] was a whole round of disappointment for them,” said Scotia-Glenville head coach Bob Leto, whose program hadn’t played since the fall of 2019.
What happened the next week was more disappointing. In Week 2, Scotia-Glenville had to call off its game because its team members were placed on a 10-day quarantine “as the result of a direct exposure to a positive COVID-19 case,” Schenectady County Director of Public Communications Erin Roberts confirmed that week to The Daily Gazette.
Scotia-Glenville was eventually able to start its season in Week 3, and suffered a 40-0 loss against a Mohonasen team that hadn’t missed out on any of its early games.
“This was our first game,” Leto said after that lopsided loss, “and it was Mohonasen’s third.”
Coaches, players and competitive balance aren’t the only things affected.
Troy Weldy, an official for the past 20 years who assigns games with the Capital District Football Officials Association, said making sure every game has officials has been extra challenging this season.
“This has been the most difficult season to assign games. It’s that simple,” Weldy said. “Usually, I like to assign the season early on, so guys know where they’re going, and I know which weeks are going to be problems.
“That opening week, we had four games that were canceled,” Weldy continued. “That second week, I waited and I had six games canceled after the assignments went out. That doesn’t even include the games that were canceled prior to the assignments.”
Schedule adjustments and game cancellations are not unique to the “Fall II” football season. During the 2020-21 academic year, each Section II season has seen some issues pop up, perhaps most notably when the Suburban Council girls’ soccer championship game last fall needed to be called off because of COVID-19 protocols after both teams, Shaker and Shenendehowa, were already on the field and warming up for the matchup.
Leto said “it doesn’t surprise” him that the football season struggled right away to play its full complement of games each week.
“It’s basic math,” Leto said. “In basketball, you’ve got maybe 10, 12 kids on a roster. In football, you’ve got 30 to 40, and the nature of football is contact. It seems — like, daily — that I hear a program is on pause, or a JV program is looking for an opponent because the team they were going to play is on pause. We have to move forward and look for the next opponent.”
Week 4 of the Section II football schedule uniquely includes varsity games on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. One of those games on Monday, Stillwater vs. Warrensburg/North Warren, will see Godfrey’s club play for the first time in 16 days, a stretch of more than two weeks during which Stillwater was always eligible to play. Another adjusted contest will have Greenwich traveling to Chatham for a 2 p.m. Sunday contest, as the Witches are expected to exit their 10-day quarantine in time to have two practices before playing Sunday.
Godfrey said his players handled last week in stride. The chance to play at all, he said, has kept their spirits up.
“I give these athletes so much credit for how flexible they’ve been, how grateful they’ve been,” Godfrey said. “I probably wouldn’t have handled it this well as a 17-year-old.”