The Press Box for February 17, 2021
It’s been a bumpy start to my journalism career. Just as I was getting my sports reporter feet wet the pandemic hit, and the stories and games especially on the high school level I thought I would be covering evaporated. I along with all sports writers across the county have had to dig pretty deep to find worthy sports subjects to investigate. If anything this sporadic halt to the winter sports season has proven the importance all sports play in our communities.
Games provide a temporary distraction to worrisome times when folks are filled with stress and doubt. Example, just the other night the country put aside thoughts of politics and pandemics to celebrate a great national tradition. The Super Bowl. Games also provide desperately needed boosts to local and national economies, from everything to ice cream for players at the Dairy Queen after a t-ball game to big city pre and post game celebrations for fans at expensive restaurants and bars. And maybe you’ll think this is silly, but one of the absolute best things about sports is the emotion it can bring to fans, players and anyone with a beating heart. Sports can cause great passion. I think of myself as a pretty tuff skinned guy, but put an old football movie on like “Brian’s Song” which is a true story about Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears and the struggles they faced being the first interracial roommates in the NFL during the 1960’s, and I get misty eyed. In real life Piccolo was diagnosed with cancer during the 1969 season. In the movie James Caan stars as Brian Piccolo and Billy Dee Williams as Gale Sayers. During an award speech Williams, playing Sayers, speaks of his love for his teammate as he watches him battle the disease. If you have never seen “Brian’s Song” rent or stream it. I’ll bet you a hundred dollars you can’t watch it without getting misty eyed, too.
For these reasons and more I am so ready. Ready to begin covering the winter season of boy’s basketball, girl’s basketball, and wrestling. I can only imagine how many of the kids and coaches who dedicate themselves to their sports are chomping at the bit to get back at it, too.
So with that, let’s look at boys wrestling at Tyler Consolidated. All athletes, girls and boys, playing sports have to be able to deal with the mental and physical strain placed on the body by long practice hours, juggling classroom demands and enduring setbacks, but there is no other high school sport that requires its athletes to perform at a certain weight in order to compete.
That means high school students on the bubble of their weight class must maintain a low calorie diet and sometimes go long periods with limited amounts of food or beverage. I don’t have firsthand experience as a wrestler, but I can’t imagine I would be good at anything on an empty stomach. My hat is off to the dedication and intensity these young men bring to their sport. When their hand is raised in victory, you can bet they have put the work in to have earned it on the mat.
Paden Morris, boys wrestling coach at Tyler Consolidated, and I touched base this week via email to get an update on how the preseason was setting up for his Silver Knights; but before we talk about the team, let’s take a look at Coach Morris’s background. Paden is a 2009 graduate of John Marshall High School where he was a 4 year varsity letterman in wrestling. He feels very fortunate to have had the privilege of wrestling for WV Wrestling Chapter Hall of Fame coaches Ted Zervos and Ed West while attending John Marshall. Immediately after high school graduation, Paden began to coach as a student attending West Liberty University where he graduated in 2013. He served as a middle school wrestling coach in Marshall County before becoming an assistant wrestling coach at John Marshall High School and serving for several seasons. This will be Coach Morris’s 12th year as a wrestling coach, but also his first as a head coach leading the program for his Silver Knights.
I asked Coach Morris about how he and his athletes have handled all the unknown speed bumps along the road to the opening of their winter season. “In regards to finally getting started, it is a huge sense of relief. It’s been a rough year on all our students, especially our student athletes, dealing with the ongoing pandemic and the no guarantee when/if we would return to school or to the mat. I feel very fortunate that we have the opportunity for a season that all the athletes deserve, and I cannot wait to get back on a mat full time,” explained Coach. He also feels very fortunate to have committed and dedicated athletes on his Silver Knights wrestling team. Coach Paden feels they are a young team, but they are all in on wrestling and have the attitude and work ethic that it takes to find success in the sport. Paden commented, “Over the course of this delay many of them have simply just found a way, and that’s the kind of resiliency you need in the sport of wrestling.” Coach Morris and his coaching staff sent out workouts for their wrestlers to do at home. “Although that’s not the same as being out there live on the mat, it’s still an opportunity for them to get better and improve as an athlete,” noted Paden.
I also wondered how the pandemic had impacted wrestling when it comes to practices and matches. Coach Morris feels the sport of wrestling is already well equipped for the safety concerns in regards to cleaning and sanitizing in the world of Covid-19. “First and foremost we clean and sanitize our mats every day before and after practice. Athletes have Defense Body Wipes available to them to clean themselves after practice and matches as well,” reported the coach. All mats will be sanitized frequently during competitions. Wrestlers are not required to wear masks during competition and strenuous exercise, but they must wear a mask and practice social distancing while on the bench. Also benefiting the safety of wrestling athletes is the way they practice. Wrestlers practice in pods competing with teammates in or near their weight class only. Coach Morris explained, “In my opinion, although it is the closest of contact sports, we are much more prepared and equipped to handle the safety measures in regards to Covid-19 than most other sports.”
The Silver Knights first match comes on March 3rd where they will compete for the Union Bank Middle Island Championship against Ritchie, Doddridge, and Saint Marys at Ritchie County High School. Their first home match is March 6th when the Silver Knights will host Wahama, South Harrison, and Webster.
Like all sports, from little league to wrestling, unfortunately there is no hand shaking before or after matches this year due to the virus.
Another first year head coach at TCHS is Tommy Phillips who takes on the role as leader of the girls varsity basketball team. I interviewed Coach Phillips via email to see how the Lady Knights were preparing to return to the gym. “This is my first year as head coach of the Lady Knights. I served as the assistant for the last two years. I started coaching middle school girls back in 2016 through 2019,” explained the coach. Coach Phillips also works at the Westlake Chemical plant in Proctor, WV, but has a strong desire to pursue coaching. “I love coaching the kids and especially being able to do it at my alumni; I was part of the first year of the school being a graduate of 1994,” Coach Phillips shared. The coaching staff and team are beyond excited to get this season started. “You can just see it in the smiles on their faces being able to have some type of normalcy,” reported the coach.
Conditioning for the Lady Knights started on Monday, February 8th with their first practice beginning Monday the 15th. The Lady Knights will open at home on March 3rd playing host to Ritchie County. Goals for the team are simply to get better as the season gets closer to sectionals. Coach Phillips is assisted by Coach Slade Buchanan. The coaching staff knows it will be difficult to get going after the struggles the pandemic has handed them, but they are optimistic. Coach Phillips believes, “With our girl’s attitude toward conditioning, we will get there!”
As far as fan attendance, as of today the SSAC is saying only parents, grandparents and household members will be allowed to attend winter sports events. Like all things Covid-19 related, that could change. We will just have to wait and see.