SSAC’s Dolan troubled with sports shutdown; now planning with uncertainty

SSAC’s Dolan troubled with sports shutdown; now planning with uncertainty

West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission executive director Bernie Dolan has witnessed much in his career.

He’s been a teacher. He’s been Wheeling Park’s principal. He’s been director of the Super Six committee. He’s been assistant superintendent in Ohio County.

One would think he’s seen it all.

Until this Covid-19 pandemic.

The well-oiled machine that is the SSAC didn’t sputter. Smoke didn’t pour from its engine. It simply stopped dead.

And that’s been tough for Dolan to embrace.

“It’s been difficult – to say the least,” Dolan said. “It’s been sad. There have been kids and coaches – but primarily kids – who have worked hard for what may have been their final year of basketball or spring sports.

“They were geared up and ready to go. Basketball was eight days from being completed. Spring sports practice had begun. And then it all got shut down. For so many seniors, it was the last chance at high school sports.”

Difficult indeed. This isn’t like the NCAA, which has given the green light to inviting spring sports athletes back for another year. The curtain simply dropped on West Virginia’s high school seniors.

“Very few kids are good enough to play college athletics,” Dolan said, “so high school is a special time. Every decision we make is with them in mind. It really weighed on me.”

Dolan said his staff has continued to work logistics behind the scenes.

“Ending it all for all these kids and coaches, without much forewarning, was tough,” Dolan said. “But when the medical people told us we were done, we were done. Still, we were planning, making changes to the spring semester, clear up until late April. We were thinking we could go into June and have a shortened season, try to get tournaments in – or maybe not even have tournaments. Maybe just have a shortened season.

“We were like everybody else across the nation though. All 50 states have now canceled all their spring sports or are in the process.”

As for high school championships, West Virginia lost the 2020 boys and girls basketball tournaments as well as those of baseball and softball and boys and girls tennis and track/field. When the basketball postseasons were suspended, nine of the 21 girls state tournament games had been played. All 21 boys state tournament games and eight Class AA regional matchups were suspended.

Dolan said those running the sites of the championships were understanding.

“We owed the [Charleston] Civic Center because we used that facility for a couple days, but everybody was good about it,” Dolan said. “It wasn’t like they lost opportunity because they couldn’t bring anybody else in anyway.”

Dolan said the SSAC is like most of us, working via our computers.

“There’s always planning going on in the background,” Dolan said. “We had our Board of Control meeting electronically over Zoom. We had 207 school representatives or other people on at one time voting on our proposals.

“I’d imagine our coaches’ and officials’ meetings we do at the beginning of each year – as well as our regional principals meetings – will all be online. We’re preparing for meeting in person, but also for having Zoom meetings for everybody.”

Dolan sighed.

“The nice thing about meeting in person is the ability to ask questions,” he said. “If we can meet in person, I’m all for that. It’s the one time we get in front of all our coaches and officials. It’s the one time they feel they have access to us quickly. They love to talk before and after the meetings. That time is invaluable.”

We’ll see how it unfolds. West Virginia is beginning to reopen. But Dolan understands the uncertainty ahead.

“The unknown has been the difficult part,” Dolan said. “As you’re planning for the next week, the next month, the next season, you’re really not sure what you’re planning for.

“We don’t have a lot of experience dealing with a situation like this. Most of the emergencies we’ve had in the past were snowstorms or floods – which all have a life cycle. You live through them and then open back up. This has been very challenging because it doesn’t seem to have a normal life cycle. It’s hard to prepare.”

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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.

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