Small schools draw the short straw again

Published 10:53 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Now that we’ve had a week to start breathing again—even if it is through surgical masks—after the swine flu hysteria that caused the Alabama High School Athletic Association to postpone all sanctioned events, we can calmly analyze the decision.

On the one hand, you have to commend AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese for doing what he thought was best for Alabama athletes. Savarese and other AHSAA officials perceived a threat and tried to avoid it.

But the question is whether the athletes are safer now than they were last week. On April 29, playoff action was postponed because there were two suspected cases of the new H1N1 virus in Madison County. As of Tuesday, Alabama claims four confirmed cases and nine more probable cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Regardless of the threat level today compared to last week, the AHSAA made the right decision to resume play. Swine flu hasn’t been proven to be more dangerous than the standard strain, so the reaction has probably been a little over the top.

As is often the case, small schools are ultimately the losers here. Thorsby’s track and field team saw the state meet for their classification moved from Troy University to the Gulf Shores Sportsplex. A trip to the beach sounds nice, one might think, but the change was a problem for the Rebels because coach Ken Copen was planning on his team commuting to Troy for the two days of the meet.

The venue change made a $200 trip turn into a $2,200 trip, Copen said, and the program simply didn’t have enough money.

But a meeting with principal Russ Bryan and donations from teachers, other coaches and community members allowed Copen to reassure his athletes that they will have the opportunity to compete at state, something they’ve been working toward all season.

“One thing I can honestly say from my 19 years of doing this, this [coaching] staff works as well together as any I’ve been around,” Copen said. “It was big to be able to go back and tell the kids, ‘Hey, if they have a state tournament, we’re going.’

“We’re still about $900 short, but we’re going to run this like a vacation: We’re going to go and then worry about paying for it later. Not going just wasn’t really an option.”