HENDERSON — For the second week in a row, Vance County will not be on the football field, as persistent COVID-19 issues at Northern Durham have forced both schools to cancel their planned matchup.
Head coach Hunter Jenks anticipated that such a scenario might occur even with COVID-19 cases declining in North Carolina, but he is still disappointed that his players can not compete due to circumstances out of their control.
“We do our best to try and control the controllables,” Jenks said. “It’s been frustrating all the way since [the pandemic] started last March, but it is what it is.”
Other than having to cancel an early-season contest to East Chapel Hill when the Wildcats could not field a team, Vance County got through the first half of its season uninterrupted despite losing their first three games.
When Vance High officials received word that Northern would be unable to play on March 26 due to positive COVID-19 cases, they rescheduled the contest for April 5 while subsequently cancelling a planned game against Northwood slated for April 1.
Unfortunately for Jenks and his players, COVID-19 has remained an issue within Northern’s program, which will prevent Vance County from playing another game until the travel to Cedar Ridge for their season finale next week.
Athletic Director Joe Sharrow is no stranger to observing pauses in athletic activities at Vance County since the start of the pandemic, and said that the latest chapter is another reminder that the overall safety of students and coaches takes precedence over any sporting events.
“We’re just continuing to follow all of our health and safety protocols,” Sharrow said. “We’re adhering to procedures that I would put up against any others in the state. We’re going above and beyond for the students and families of our school system by keeping student athletes safe while also providing them with beneficial extracurricular activities.”
Jenks said that the pauses have hit his senior class the hardest, as they are now coming to the realization that the season-ending matchup against Cedar Ridge, scheduled for April 9 at the Hillsborough school, will be the last time they suit up in a Vance County Vipers uniform.
He said he has tried to keep the team focused for what will now be its last game, and how players can use the challenges they have endured during the year to make themselves stronger mentally regardless if they are graduating or returning to the program in the fall.
“We recently had a Zoom meeting in which we talked about some of this stuff,” Jenks said. “You’re going to come across things like this in life and you just have to control them the best you can and move forward. For the seniors, I talked about how they can leave their mark on the program by going out with a win, which the underclassmen can use to propel themselves into the offseason.”
Sharrow said he is proud of everything Jenks has done with the football team in his first year as the head coach, and praised the players for how they have conducted themselves in the middle of the cancellations directly caused by the pandemic.
He is optimistic that a continued decrease in COVID-19 cases will result in a more normal football season by the time September comes around, which he hopes includes the return of traditions such as Senior Night festivities.
“One of the biggest disappointments is that we won’t be able to celebrate our seniors on a traditional Senior Night,” Sharrow said. “The coaches and I are all going to come up with some kind of special event for them so that we can still honor them in a unique and special way.”
Jenks said that the leadership of the seniors has been one of the main factors behind Vance County’s gradual improvement over the past three weeks, adding that their ability to hold their own with strong programs like Southern Durham and Orange showcases the potential on the roster.
He believes a win in the upcoming game with Cedar Ridge is more than feasible for Vance County as long as the offense cuts down on the mistakes and the defense keeps the Fighting Red Wolves from generating any momentum.
“Both of us are winless on the season so I know [Cedar Ridge] is probably telling their kids the same thing as us,” Jenks said. “ ‘End on a high note, get ready for the offseason and send the seniors out with a bang.’ I expect their best performance of the season.”
The matchup between Vance County and Cedar Ridge will kick off next Friday at 7 p.m..