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Valley coach speaks at Rotary Club meeting about upcoming season

LANETT — One of the most unusual school years ever is underway. The continuing spread of COVID-19 has forced local school officials to go to extraordinary lengths to keep students, teachers and staff members safe.

Chambers County Superintendent Dr. Kelli Hodge and Valley High head football coach Adam Hunter talked about this at Thursday’s noon hour meeting of the West Point Rotary Club, held at the Jane Farrar Event Center in downtown Lanett.

COVID-19 is by far the worst pandemic the U.S. has dealt with since the Spanish Flu of 1918-20. That novel H1N1 flu killed an estimated 675,000 Americans. It came some 20 years before there was a Valley High. Schooling and extracurricular events like football, cheerleading and band were nothing like they are now. Precautions have been added for school buses, in the hallways, classrooms and at events like football games.

There’s something known as the 615 rule all Alabama high schools must adhere to. It simply means that anyone who has been within six feet of someone with a positive COVID-19 test for at least 15 minutes must be quarantined. This rule is causing some extraordinary problems for some Alabama high school teams. Vestavia Hills High in metro Birmingham, for example, has had to quarantine their entire team after the head coach tested positive.

Some schools have canceled early-season games due to this.

“Anyone who has violated the 615 rule must be quarantined,” Dr. Hodge said.

Fortunately for Valley High, none of their 62 players have tested positive. The coaching staff is okay, too. Valley High will be playing volleyball this fall as well, and no one with that program has tested positive.

Hunter said that any player who tests positive will have to be in quarantine for up to two weeks and once cleared will have to have at least five days of practice time to get up to speed and get ready for games.

Masks will be ever-present at high school football games this year. Players and coaches will wear them on the sideline. The players can take them off when they are on the field. Cheerleaders and band members will be wearing them when they are not cheering or playing their instruments.

Hunter said he’d prefer to have neck gaiters for his players rather than conventional masks. The neck gaiter is a closed tube of fabric that can easily pulled up to cover the mouth and nose. Neck gaiters are commonly being used to shield against COVID-19.

The coach was asked if any thought had been given to using face shields.

“We have thought about that,” he said, “but we don’t think it would be good because the way players sweat this time of year. It would cause them to frequently wipe the shield, and that’s not good.”

Hunter said 2020 will be the kind of football season where success won’t be measured in terms of wins and losses but in building a strong family-like bond that will continue into the future.

“I tell my players every day that I love them,” he said. “I love this community. There’s no place I’d rather be than right here in Valley, Alabama.”

Hunter is a native of New Site, Alabama and is entering his 14th year of coaching.

“We have a great coaching staff,” he said. “We are all eager to coach these guys.”

One team strength will be its 17-member senior class. Another plus is the way the players have bought in to what the coaches want them to do. They started preparing for the season in late May and since that time only three players have left the team.

“We are ready to get on the field for a game,” he said. “We are tired of beating up on each other in practice. We’d rather beat up on someone else in a game.”

That opportunity will take place at 8 p.m. Friday at Ram Stadium when Valley hosts Beauregard.

Valley is going all digital with tickets this year. The players, cheerleaders and band members are each being given two tickets each for family members. There will be 600 tickets for the home side and 400 for the visitor side. The food at the concession stands will be packaged. Nothing touched by human hands will be available. The drinks will be sold as normal.

One member of the club noted that former coach Doug Lockridge was at Valley High for 30 seasons (1951-80). He was widely respected by all, and his teams won numerous state championships. “Why have we had so many coaches since then?” he asked.

“Coaching is very different from the way it used to be,” said Dr. Hodge. “The work is very different from what it once was.”

“It’s the nature of the profession,” Hunter said. “Coaches move around a lot. Even the coaches who have great records are moving from school to school.”