The Stillwater High football team is in search of a new opponent this week after district foe U.S. Grant canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
The game was slated to be played at Pioneer Stadium with Grant holding an 0-1 record in district and 1-3 overall – with one of its losses being to McLoud (3-2) in Class 3A. Grant also had last week’s district game against Midwest City canceled.
Since Grant cited “numbers and COVID” for its reasoning to cancel the game, it will not be considered a forfeit per OSSAA policy. That also means it will not go down as a district win for the Pioneers, who have not lost a district contest since 2017.
The news from U.S. Grant blindsided Stillwater High football coach Tucker Barnard.
According to the Stillwater coach, he had received assurance from the Grant coach last week – and had even exchanged game film for scouting – and received the news of the cancelation late Monday night.
He said he spent his entire Tuesday trying to track down potential opponents and even getting confirmation from the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association on procedures and potential impacts of their district game being canceled. A recent OSSAA policy passed states that a game must be rescheduled within 48 hours of it being canceled.
“The more people I talk to, I realize how much confusion there is,” Barnard said. “It doesn’t feel to me like really anybody has a real good handle on what’s going on or how we’re handling these situations – whether the games are supposed to be rescheduled or not rescheduled. To be really transparent, it’s been a really, really frustrating day trying to find out things.”
The Pioneers weren’t the only football team in their district to find out their game this week would be called off due to COVID-19.
Deer Creek – which SHS beat in the district opener – had its game canceled by Northwest Classen, which has yet to play a district game due to cancellations. Putnam City North – which is tied with SHS at 2-0 in district play – also had its contest canceled by Lawton.
And those cancellations do draw some concern for Barnard.
Lawton and Northwest Classen are Stillwater’s next two opponents, respectively, which could mean Stillwater has three-straight district contests canceled if COVID-19 numbers prevent those two programs from getting onto the gridiron.
“That is absolutely a huge concern, and has absolutely consumed my day today and will probably consume my day tomorrow,” Barnard said. “We need the opportunity to play, so it’s a major concern, for sure.”
It’s understandable that the head coach of the Class 6A-II runners-up the past two season has concerns.
Per OSSAA policies passed during the pandemic, the district seeding will be based on total district wins – not win percentage – which could threaten the Pioneers with two district wins. If remaining teams continue to cancel against Stillwater, and other district opponents are able to get games played, Barnard sees a reality where they could be impacted negatively.
“I spent about four different phone calls today with the OSSAA trying to work through this, and it seems pretty simple on the surface,” Barnard said. “But when you start playing out hypothetical situations, it gets pretty dicey. … What if the Pioneers don’t get another district game in? … The way the rule reads, we could potentially be left out of the playoffs if some other teams have three or four wins and we only have two.
“It’s really frustrating right now. OSSAA tells me that won’t happen, but I don’t know. I don’t know how I’m supposed to stay calm with that.”
One way to potentially curb that would be trying to move one of the later district games to this week.
Stillwater is scheduled to play Putnam City North in the last week of the regular season, and since PCN wasn’t the culprit for the cancelation, Barnard has turned to the Panthers as the potential opponent this week.
However, Barnard said PCN has been reluctant to switch the schedule.
“I spent most of my day trying to get Putnam City’s game moved … and trying to make that game possible,” Barnard said. “But it doesn’t appear that they have any interest in moving that game up. … They are available, but they don’t want to play this week.”
If Putnam City North holds its stance of waiting until Week 10, Barnard is still willing to find an opponent to get a game in this week.
Though this week’s game was originally scheduled to be at Pioneer Stadium, he said he has made reservations for buses and drivers if travel is necessary to get a game in.
And he’s keeping most options open, even going down in classifications, as long as it’s a game that will benefit both programs – keeping in mind the risk of health (both with COVID-19 tracing and in-game physicality) for a non-district game.
“Somewhere along the way, there’s a line that we have to draw,” Barnard said. “… We want to have a meaningful game. If you’re going to go out and risk injury, and risk COVID contact tracing, things like that, then you want it to be a game that makes you better and you get meaningful reps from.”
The Stillwater coach said there is even an option from out of state that has expressed interest.
While Barnard made it seem that he’s still hopeful PCN will reconsider playing this week, he said a team from the Dallas-Fort Worth area has reached out as a potential opponent.
“The logistics there are going to be difficult, but we’ll probably get to work on those (Wednesday) morning to see if we can find a neutral site somewhere between here and there that would be willing to host us,” Barnard said. “We’re just thinking if we can make something happen or not, but we also know that something between now and (Wednesday) afternoon, there could be more games that somebody in 5A or 6A-I that says they can’t play. So just keeping that all as a potential.”
Barnard said he wants to finalize the opponent sooner rather than later to both be able to allow time for the team to prepare for the opponent, but more importantly to ensure event management preparations can be managed accordingly.
He also mentioned that he’s already lined up a new opponent from their JV squad, which will play against Cashion on Thursday.