Buffalo High School football coach Rob Hammond had spent all week preparing his team for their home season opener against Newcastle. Then, around 8:30 a.m. on game day, he received an email.
“This week Newcastle has been dealing with many uncertainties and precautions in relation to COVID-19,” Buffalo High School Activities Director Ryan Mader wrote Friday morning. “Most recent developments from last night and this morning has forced the decision to cancel tonight’s game.”
Every coach in Wyoming knows these sudden cancellations are a possibility during a pandemic. But for a team as untested as the fresh-faced Bison squad, which was depending on Friday’s game to finally provide a full test for an uncertain starting roster, the last-minute cancellation was particularly crushing.
“It was hard,” Hammond said. “I felt like this was going to happen sometime, but I didn’t expect it to happen Week 1. And to be honest with you, I knew it would be disappointing for the kids, but I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be until I actually told them. It was a pretty sobering moment, knowing the game could get taken away so quickly.”
Sudden cancellations are a necessary evil in such an uncertain school year. The complications of COVID-19, even in the young and healthy, still aren’t fully understood; Penn State’s doctor or athletic medicine recently announced that around 15% of the conference’s college athletes with the virus had experienced heart complications.
So Hammond is making an effort to reframe Friday’s cancellation for his team. On one hand, it’s keeping them safer. On the other, it gives them a full extra week to prepare themselves for Friday’s away game at Green River High School.
“We have to put it in the right frame of mind, and say this is an extra week to practice, an extra week to get healthy,” Hammond said.
Scouting Green River is a challenge, as the team has a brand-new coaching staff and only one week of game film, making them a somewhat unpredictable opponent.
“They’re a big school,” Hammond said. “They’re going to have more kids on the sidelines, they’re going to have bigger kids. We’re kind of excited about that challenge, but I don’t quite know what to expect.”
The preparation for Buffalo will be the same no matter what: get as much practice time as possible in a snowy week and work on the basics of every aspect of their game.
“It’s going to be like Week 1 for us,” Hammond said. “We had the scrimmage versus Big Horn, and that was game-like, but this is the first time it’s a game that counts for our record. So, we’re going to have some jitters, and we’re going to have some nervous energy that you always have the first time you come out the gates.”