The Friday night lights will come back on for football in the Triad on Sept. 11, but it won’t be for high school games or practices.
Instead, high school players will be competing in the NC Fusion 7-on-7 flag football league at venues in Forsyth and Guilford counties.
The league — and a pair of lineman camps that will be held in conjunction with the 7-on-7 league — will play on Friday nights starting with scrimmages Sept. 11 and concluding with games Oct. 30. That’s the night games would typically be played if not for the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down high school sports in North Carolina since March.
“We tried to figure out a way to provide a safe, competitive environment for our athletes while still operating under the guidelines of the NCHSAA,” says Mitch Mitchener, Eastern Guilford’s defensive coordinator.
Mitchener and West Forsyth head coach Adrian Snow had similar ideas about organizing a 7-on-7 league and came at it from both sides of the Triad. They met in the middle with Gary Gartner, the head of community development for NC Fusion, whose organization spans the region.
NC Fusion provides the facilities (BB&T Sports Park in Bermuda Run, Bryan Park in Browns Summit and the Smith Soccer Complex in Greensboro), logistics, promotion and insurance. Gartner and his colleagues are working with retailers to procure all of the equipment needed “to put on a great event and a great league,” he says. The Fusion organization also is running a 7-on-7 high school soccer league on Saturday nights starting Sept. 26 and a high school field hockey program this fall.
“We’re super-excited and hope this is not just a one-off fall league,” Gartner says. “We hope to offer these additional leagues outside of high school seasons going forward.”
All of the 7-on-7 flag football games and the lineman camps will be recorded by Spiideo sports video, so that players can “upload this to Hudl and put it on their highlight tapes and have a true evaluation tool just like they would at a college camp,” Mitchener says.
That’s particularly important for the linemen, who missed out on college camps and a number of other events that were canceled because of the virus. As an offensive line coach as well as a head coach, Snow wanted to make sure those players were placed in a setting and in drills that would allow them to demonstrate their skills.
“I’ve talked to coaches at every Division I school in the state and they all have said they would use the tape,” Snow says.
Just as important as the football is the players’ safety.
“It’s about making sure we’re providing a safe environment just as much as we’re providing a competitive environment,” Mitchener says.
Players and coaches will be temperature-checked when they arrive for scrimmages or games and will have to sign a waiver attesting to their health. Two certified athletics trainers will be working each night at each venue. All NCHSAA protocols will be followed, as well as those the Fusion has used for practices and games at its venues.
Another thing Mitchener and Snow were careful about was making coaches don't work with more than 10 of their own players, which would violate NCHSAA rules.
“Our coaches might not get to work the lineman camp if a bunch of our kids go,” Snow says, “but I would rather (the kids) have a chance to go to work than not.”
The league and lineman camp are for high school-age players, and 257 had registered online as of 8:30 a.m. today. Registration closes Friday.
“We’re just trying to help the kids,” Snow says. “That’s what this is about.”
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