CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — As football players and coaches around Southern Illinois sat through another Friday night without games, bands or cheerleaders, Cape Central opened up its season.
That the Tigers routed St. Charles West 42-14 in Tiger Stadium was almost secondary. That they are playing football in the middle of the worst pandemic the country has ever known was the story.
How they got from mid-March to a perfect September night in the weirdest offseason any of them will ever know and still got to start a season is a story they might tell their children and grand-children one day.
And if they’re like athletic director Tyson Moyers or coach Kent Gibbs, they’re still wondering just how they got here.
‘It’s been something’
While it surprised few people that the IHSA delayed football season to the spring, the Missouri State High School Activities Association never seriously entertained postponing or moving fall sports.
“They were pretty steadfast,” Moyers said. “I don’t know that they wavered from it. Their basic idea was to follow local health guidelines, because it’s different here in Cape than the boot heel or mid-Missouri. I have to say they’ve made an effort to make it happen.”
The key word is effort. With COVID-19 not going away any time soon, Cape Central quizzes athletes every day to check their health. Every player in fall sports gets their temperature taken when they report to their locker room before practice.
The adjustments haven’t stopped there. Gibbs has coached for 40 years, the last 32 as a head coach. For all those years, he remembers having a water cow/trough for multiple players to quench their thirst during breaks in practice.
This season, that’s a thing of the past. Every player has his own jug, and there’s no sharing. The times, they have a changed.
“It’s been something, and it’s been something for everybody,” Gibbs said. “The ability to get everybody in one place at one time this summer was tough to do. Hopefully, we can get through this without any major problems and we won’t have to work through this next year.”
‘Assess and re-assess’
Asked what has created the biggest challenge in a year that coronavirus and its spectre will affect the texture of everything, Moyers answered quickly.
“I have a hard time figuring out what the biggest challenge is,” he said. “There’s so much you do on a regular basis. As our reentry plan was coming out, it was entirely like creating a new school in two weeks and hoping it works out.
“It’s not as drastic in athletics, but we just rolled out online ticketing this week. We’re working through all these challenges and trying to help coaches, not to mention kids who have been out of school for five months. You assess and re-assess.”
The school is allowing a maximum of 1,600 fans to attend each game, doling out 800 tickets to the visitors. Ticketing priority is given to parents of players, band members and cheerleaders. There are no ticket sales at the gate.
Cape Central’s stadium is beautiful and spacious, with room for about 5,000 fans. It boasts a FieldTurf surface and a first-rate scoreboard. But it felt quiet on this night, perhaps because the visitors might have brought about 50 fans from the metro St. Louis area.
Moyers is hoping that the Tigers’ next home game in two weeks against Jackson will boast more atmosphere.
“We’ll be as packed as we allow ourselves to be,” he said.
‘Hard to get used to’
Gibbs got a taste last week of what players and coaches in Illinois are experiencing. Cape Central’s season opener was wiped out due to COVID-19 concerns among its opponent.
Could the guy who’s coached well over 400 games in his career as a head coach and assistant imagine having to wait six extra months to tee it up and kick it off in March?
“Last Friday night was odd,” he said. “It’s better to play in the spring than not at all, but not playing in the fall would be hard to get used to.”
Senior Cameren Walley scored the year’s first touchdown on a nice 6-yard run which saw him break multiple tackles. It was the second and third effort of someone who’s been waiting to play a season opener that some states will have to wait months to experience.
Walley said afterwards that he felt blessed to get to play in the fall.
“I’d be devastated if we had to wait until the spring,” he said.