NM-EF football

North Marion High’s Tariq Miller runs upfield as East Fairmont High’s Joel Myers closes in during a game at North Marion High School during the 2019 season.

When East Fairmont, Fairmont Senior and North Marion high schools return to the gridiron on Sept. 4, they’ll do so in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that is liable to take the 2020 high school season in West Virginia in any direction.

Whether the season lasts for its entirety and sees a Class A, AA and AAA state champion crowned or goes up in smoke in short order, the 2020 season will truly be unlike any other.

The journey across the state and really across the entire country to preserve and maintain the spectacle of Friday nights under the lights has been a battle all its own amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has placed the idea of high school sports into a whole new perspective. The overdone cliches of taking everything one game at a time and playing every game as if it could be your last suddenly have new merit heading into this 2020 season.

To make way for even the start of a 2020 high school football season, certain traditions have been scrapped and everyday norms have been uprooted. Original opening week games were wiped from the slate across the state as the start of the season was postponed a week.

The number of fans at games will be severely limited to immediate family members of players and coaches, who will have to either wear face coverings and/or socially distance. Student sections have been eliminated. School bands almost were, too, if not for a specific and rash order by Gov. Jim Justice. Postgame handshakes among teams have been banned. Players will have to dress pregame and undress postgame while following very specific protocols.

And even all of those guidelines, restrictions, rules and safety measures are dependent upon West Virginia’s 55 counties staying colored in green and yellow as opposed to orange and red on a precious, tell-all map.

Nevertheless, in spite of it all, East Fairmont will travel to Grafton, Fairmont Senior will head to Lincoln, and North Marion will visit Preston this Friday to begin the 2020 season with their standard 7 p.m. kickoffs.

The Bees, under second-year coach Shane Eakle, are coming off a 4-6 season in 2019 as the program continues to grind through a historic rebuild. The four wins in 2019 were the most for East Fairmont in a single-season since 2008, when it also won four, and with a one-win improvement in 2020, the Bees would crack .500 or better for the first time since 2007 when the program reached the Class AAA state semifinals.

Across town, Fairmont Senior remains one of the state’s titan programs, one looking to make amends after a 26-game win streak and a string of three-consecutive Class AA state championship game appearances were snapped after a state semifinal loss to Bluefield. The Polar Bears, who have gone undefeated in each of the past two regular seasons under head coach Nick Bartic, enter the 2020 campaign eyeing a sixth-straight double-digit win season and a fourth state title game appearance in five years.

North Marion High is gearing up for an encore to one of the program’s finest seasons in recent memory in 2019. Under veteran coach Daran Hays, who enters his 12th season as NMHS head coach this fall, the Huskies compiled a 7-3 regular season and a Class AA playoff berth last fall, the most wins the program has had in a single season since 2001.

North Marion, which owns two Class AA playoff berths in the past four seasons, will seek a return postseason trip in 2020 as it tries to capture its first playoff victory during Hays’ tenure.

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

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