ROTTERDAM — Stephanie VanAlstyne was on a school bus Thursday, heading back to Schalmont with her girls’ tennis teammates after an away match, when she found out.
The high school’s varsity football home game against Hudson had been postponed after Schalmont became the latest Section II program this fall to be hit with cases of Coxsackievirus.
That meant the school needed a football game for its annual homecoming celebration — and the girls of Schalmont were ready to deliver one when the opportunity was presented to move their powderpuff game to homecoming’s featured spot.
“Man, that’s pretty cool,” VanAlstyne thought. “We’re going to be under the lights and everything.”
“And we’re just used to the boys being the spotlight for every homecoming,” Schalmont senior Vanessa Wainwright, one of the school’s girls’ soccer stars, said Friday before taking the football field. “But the girls are taking over this year.”
They did, as the school’s junior and senior classes met in their yearly battle for bragging rights in the form of a flag football game to cap off the school’s homecoming night.
“It was a bit of a change of events,” VanAlstyne said.
And it represented the latest twist in an unusual season of high school varsity football in the area, which has now seen three games postponed after players contracted Coxsackievirus, which is contagious and causes hand, foot and mouth disease.
“Never seen anything like this — never,” said Ed Dopp, who spent more than 30 years at Shaker High School before becoming Section II’s executive director last year. “My wife has been involved in school nursing, too, and this is just so highly unusual. I mean, we’ve all heard of Coxsackievirus, but I can’t remember it ever getting to this level where it was affecting older high school students so much.”
We have, at least momentarily, abandoned the concept of flag football. pic.twitter.com/b4oKhwl6bw— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) October 5, 2018
A number of area schools have had confirmed cases of the virus. Within the area’s varsity football ranks, first a game between Gloversville and Ballston Spa was postponed after members of the Gloversville program were infected. After that, two weeks ago, Amsterdam players had confirmed cases of the virus leading to the team’s game against Broadalbin-Perth being called off. This week, three Schalmont players were diagnosed Thursday with the virus, causing the team’s game Friday to be postponed.
But . . . homecoming at Schalmont, as it does at most high schools, requires a football game for the community to rally around.
“We have a lot of school clubs and teams that set up booths for homecoming. We wanted to keep that environment here,” said Matt Ronca, Schalmont’s athletic director. “We figured we could get that with the powderpuff game. There’s always a great crowd for it, anyway.”
And, as luck would have it, the girls’ powderpuff game had been scheduled for last Tuesday, but had been postponed because of a dismal weather forecast. So, when administrators at Schalmont got to talking Thursday about how to fill homecoming’s featured time slot, Ronca said a conclusion was reached relatively quickly.
“Hey,” Ronca said Friday night, “we had an opening for a football game.”
Schalmont varsity football head coach Joe Whipple ended up with an unexpected opening on his schedule, too, which meant he got to partake in his normal role as the powderpuff game’s lead official.
He was disappointed, obviously, for his team to miss out on playing a homecoming game — but Whipple also enjoyed the chance to see the school’s junior and senior girls get their chance to play in front of a packed crowd that overflowed from the field’s bleachers.
“This is a great opportunity for them to get to play under the Friday night lights,” Whipple said. “And they’re fantastic. There are a lot of competitive kids here.”
Whipple’s players served as the night’s coaches, while other junior and senior boys acted as the game’s cheerleaders. Schalmont star quarterback Shane O’Dell said it was a fun experience to coach in the game — and Whipple said he enjoyed watching his players deal with their players.
“I love when the girls don’t listen to them,” Whipple said. “I just look at them and say, ‘It’s not so easy to coach, is it?’”
The juniors ended up winning Friday’s game 8-0 after an early touchdown and 2-point conversion. VanAlstyne said there were some nerves for the game’s participants as the night’s contest approached, but those didn’t last long.
“Everyone’s just excited because this is different,” VanAlstyne said. “It’s never been done before.”
Also, here is the deal with @SchalmontCSD #518football ...— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) October 6, 2018
Will play Cobleskill next Friday, as scheduled
Will play Hudson the following Tuesday (Oct. 16)
A Week 8 playoff game, for both Hudson & Schalmont, would be played on Sat. (Oct. 20) to accomodate the 4-night rest rule
What stayed the same, though, was a large homecoming crowd. Cars packed the school’s parking lots, and overflowed into a sizable grassy lot. The day’s festivities included a pair of varsity soccer games against Mohonasen, plenty of food, music, a variety of fundraising events — and, of course, a football game.
That it all worked out, Whipple said, made sense to him.
“That’s Schalmont. We embrace the adversity we face and we make the best out of everything,” Whipple said. “That’s who we are.”