CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coaches are fond of the term "level playing field'' when it comes to competing. But for football teams in Kanawha County, the field might seem a bit uphill to start the season.
With students in Kanawha reporting for classes on Aug. 9 this year, some valuable practice time figures to be lost for football teams gearing up for their respective season openers during the weekend of Aug. 29-31.
Compared to last year, the amount of time for preseason two-a-day workouts - grueling for players, great for coaches - has been drastically reduced.
Consider that in 2012, Kanawha teams started practice on July 30 and had 16 days to schedule drills (Monday through Saturday) before classes began on Aug. 17. This year, it's been shaved to just four days for extended workouts before classes start.
When you're faced with rebuilding a squad after graduation losses, than means a lot less time to get prepared. And if you're a Kanawha County team that happens to play one or both of its first two games against someone with a much later start date for classes (and more time for two-a-days), you can be at a disadvantage.
The eight football-playing high schools in Kanawha County compete in either the Class AAA Mountain State Athletic Conference (Capital, George Washington, Nitro, Riverside, South Charleston, St. Albans) or the AA Cardinal Conference (Herbert Hoover, Sissonville).
Only two other counties fielding teams in those leagues have earlier reporting dates for classes (see chart, below), while eight counties come later - some much later, like Putnam (Aug. 22), which is nearly two weeks after Kanawha.
"I figure we'll lose seven or eight hours of practice that second week,'' said Sissonville coach Eddie Smolder. "That's a lot when you're trying to prepare for a game in a short amount of time.''
For the most part, Kanawha County coaches are taking the high road when it comes to their situations, perhaps fearing they'll give their squads a built-in excuse if the season doesn't start off with success.
"Whether it does or doesn't [turn into a disadvantage], it's nothing we can really affect or control,'' said Nitro coach Derek Midkiff. "With our schedule, we'll go into it and be as effective with our time as we can. Hopefully we'll be ready to play when Poca comes around Aug. 30.''
Midkiff faces a double whammy of sorts: His team is one of four in Kanawha County replacing its starting quarterback - in a pass-happy offense, no less - and the Wildcats play their first two games against Putnam neighbors (Poca, Hurricane), who ostensibly have 11/2 extra weeks of two-a-day practices.
"It is what it is,'' Midkiff said. That's what we're given and we're not going to use it as a crutch. Other than that one week that really hurts us - the second week of practice - I don't think it's that big a deal.
"That second week [when school is in session], we may practice for an hour and a half, take an hour off, then practice another hour and a half. That's not a true two-a-day, but that's what we're given. We'll try to do what the college game does - they don't allow two-a-days on consecutive days anymore. To do that would be unfair to the kids to have to get up the next day and go to class and still be effective.''
Sissonville is another county program that must both find a new QB and play its first two games against teams with more lead time - Chapmanville (classes start Aug, 19) and Liberty Raleigh (Aug. 15).
"It's going to be tough this year,'' Smolder said. "We've always had 21/2 weeks of two-a-days before school starts. We'll have to cut out that second week of two-a-day practice time. Compared to other counties that start later, we could be at a disadvantage. We'll have to come up with ways to make up practice time.
"We thought about [two-a-days] during that second week, but it would be too tough on the coaches, too tough on the kids. I don't know if we want to put players through two-a-days and school. I don't think it would be right to the kids.''