Despite postponement of games until 2021, Berkshire County football coaches appreciate framework going forward

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Berkshire County's high school football coaches know they won't be coaching any games this fall.

But at least, with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association's decision concerning when to possibly play the sport, the coaches have a framework to start getting their teams back together — with the hopes of playing in early 2021.

"They're definitely happy, especially the seniors," McCann Tech football coach Tony Skiffington said about the MIAA's decision to keep football on the table. "We thought we were going to walk into this and they were done last year — but they're not. We don't know [the details] yet. We at least have something to look forward to, a plan. It's just going to be the opposite of the fall.

"We're going to start in the cold and finish when it's a little warmer."

The MIAA's Board of Directors approved a plan last month for a four-season high school sports calendar. Football, unified basketball and competitive cheer competitions were moved from the regular fall season to what has been dubbed "Fall II." The MIAA has suggested that the regular fall campaign this year will run from Sept. 18 until Nov. 20, while "Fall II" is set to begin on Feb. 22 and run until April 25. Those dates, though, cane changed by District I's (Berkshires and Pioneer Valley Athletic Conference) administrators.

Skiffington emphasized that he is happiest for the seniors at McCann.

"Unlike college, where those kids can take a semester off and come back and repeat and get their final year," he said, "high school kids can't."

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Wahconah football coach Gary Campbell Jr. said back when the coronavirus pandemic began, he felt a little lost because of his inability to have one-on-one, in-person contact in the building with members of his football team and other students.

While Campbell said he realizes that just because there is a framework for competitive football to begin in late February, it still might not happen. That does not temper his feelings of joy over the fact that coaches can, at least, begin their planning.

"There's light at the end of the tunnel and there's actual hope," Campbell said. "There's an actual plan. In the fall, being able to gather and work with the kids is good. But really, what we're all striving to do is to have the seniors play their last season of football games."

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At Wahconah, football players won't be getting their playbooks until the Fall II season, but Campbell said that they would be preparing in the fall for the preseason.

"Our fall is going to [be] strength and conditioning," he said. "Encourage any of the kids if they want to do cross country or golf, if we do have any kids, to do that. They could possibly do four sports, which would possibly be cool. It might be one of the only times you can letter in four sports, in Massachusetts anyway."

Campbell said that twice a week, football players might go through language and basic football skills, with the more advanced work coming in February and March.

"We have not determined our path down here in Lee just yet as far as [fall practice] is concerned, given the return-to-school protocols," Lee football coach and athletic director Keith Thomson said. "Right now, my focus is going to be on conditioning. Whether it's here in the building, if we can pull that off somehow, or if it's an outside place, to get the kids involved and get them together a little bit. For a lot of us, even though there had been some conditioning things going on during the [spring], it certainly wasn't to the degree that we're accustomed to."

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Coaches in all sports have had more time to themselves since the start of the pandemic. College coaches have done recruiting and coaching clinics virtually. High school coaches, like Lee's Thomson, have done a lot of work watching video. It's all in preparation for late February.

"It certainly gives you an opportunity to go back, evaluate your films, evaluate some of the things you're doing both offensively and defensively," Thomson said. "To be quite honest, special teams can sometime be a little bit of an afterthought. With the extra time we have available to us, that may be a point of emphasis to re-evaluate what you do on special teams, and really work on the X's and O's portion.

"A lot of us will look at how we practice and our practice schedules, and try to make some adjustments to make the most use out of the time that we have."

It'll be the third year on the McCann sidelines for Skiffington, whose team had been scheduled to open against Greenfield. While nobody knows if the Hornets will play Greenfield in the Fall II season, the McCann coach said that — like many of his fellow head coaches — he will have done a lot of video work on his team and others, to be ready.

"I've been [coaching] since '89, and I watch film and videos all the time. I'm a thief, just like every other football coach," Skiffington said with a chuckle. "I pick up things. Do I watch hours? Absolutely. I'm always trying to correct everything.

"And now we have more time to."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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