East Fairmont vs. North Marion matchup not likely

North Marion’s Ethan Mays tries to escape the hold of East Fairmont’s Joel Myers during the teams’ first game of the 2019 season.

FAIRMONT — For the first time since the opening of North Marion High School in 1979, county rivals East Fairmont and North Marion are unlikely to meet on the gridiron this fall barring any unforeseen changes by the schools to their respective 2020 football schedules.

East Fairmont and North Marion were originally scheduled to play in the first week of the 2020 season as the two programs did for both the 2017 and 2019 season openers. But the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission’s readjusted timeline for the 2020 high school football season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic cancelled all Week 1 games across the state, as stated in the organization’s July 10 announcement.

In the weeks since the WVSSAC’s announcement, East Fairmont and North Marion have been unable to agree on a possible makeup date for their annual county clash, and NMHS coach Daran Hays, along with NMHS administration, has since picked up an additional game for the Huskies in 2020 giving them the maximum amount of 10 games. East Fairmont, as things currently stand, is still scheduled for just nine games this season with its original bye week still set for Sept. 25.

Fairmont Senior also picked up an additional game during its bye week and will play a full 10-game schedule. The Polar Bears will now play Winfield on Oct. 2 and forgo a bye week. Fairmont Senior and Winfield met in the first round of last season’s Class AA playoffs at East-West Stadium in a wild game the Polar Bears won by a 63-34 final. It’s the only time the two programs have played one another in their respective histories.

North Marion, meanwhile, has made multiple changes to its original schedule, for not only did the Huskies pick up a game for their original bye week on Oct. 2, but they also swapped opponents the following week on Oct. 9. The Huskies will now host Roane County on Oct. 2, and will play at Chapmanville the following week on Oct. 9 after originally being slated to play Sissonville that week.

The Huskies originally backed out of the game against Sissonville on Oct. 9 in an attempt to accommodate a possible makeup date for the East Fairmont game, according to Hays, but East Fairmont wouldn’t drop its original Oct. 9 game against Big 10 Conference opponent Philip Barbour. Hays and NMHS administration then contacted and ultimately scheduled to play at Chapmanville on Oct. 9.

The Oct. 2 and Oct. 9 games will be North Marion’s first ever meeting in football with Roane County and Chapmanville, respectively.

The originally scheduled East Fairmont-North Marion game for Week 1 this season was going to be a home game for the Bees at East-West Stadium, but now with its cancellation, the Bees are slated for just four home dates as things currently stand. East Fairmont’s annual season finale against crosstown rival Fairmont Senior, however, is marked as a road contest, so the Bees will still play five of its nine games at East-West Stadium pending any further schedule changes. North Marion, meanwhile, will play six of its 10 games at home at Woodcutters Stadium for the 2020 season after swapping its original Week 1 road game at East Fairmont for a home date with Roane County on its original bye week and trading a road game at Sissonville for a road game at Chapmanville.

North Marion leads the all-time series with East Fairmont 33-8, including an active five-game winning streak dating back to the 2015 season.

All scheduling changes for the 2020 football season depend on there even being a 2020 season due to ongoing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. Surrounding states and various collegiate athletic conferences across the country have already announced they’re cancelling the 2020 fall sports season or suspending fall sports until the spring. There are also a number of Marion County coaches who have either expressed cautious pessimism or a complete shoulder shrug concerning the plausibility of a high school football season this fall.

Thus far, however, the WVSSAC has stood firm on its delayed dates of Aug. 17 as the first day of football practice, Aug. 21 as the first day of practice with pads, Aug. 25 as the first day of practice with full contact, and Sept. 3 as the start of official games. The practice start date of Aug. 17 seems plausible to coaches, with no additional WVSSAC-designated sports activities or practice periods currently scheduled from the end of counties’ respective three-week live practice periods until then. But once practice begins, and, in particular once scrimmages are permitted to begin Aug. 28, there’s more skepticism as to how realistic it is for actual games to occur in early September.

High school athletics associations in neighboring states, such as Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, have announced various cancellations, delays and restrictions concerning fall sports. As of Wednesday, Virginia had officially postponed all fall sports until the spring. Ohio fall sports remain on track to begin practicing Aug. 1, but preseason scrimmages have been put on hold indefinitely.

In the college ranks, the Mountain East Conference, which consists primarily of West Virginia schools, most recently announced plans to continue with athletics this fall, but at a later date than originally scheduled. All fall sports practices and official games were pushed back another three weeks in a July 21 conference announcement. The earliest possible competition for any fall sport is Oct. 1 at this time.

Email Bradley Heltzel at bheltzel@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @bradheltzTWV.

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