It was the fall of ’20 when a Poplar Bluff football coach was putting together a team that had not played since before a worldwide pandemic.
Actually, it was a century ago when J.C. Corbett revived the football program at Poplar Bluff High School.
In 1917 the student body voted not to have a team because no faculty member could coach and, as the story goes, “the student body this year happens not to possess many very heavy players” and the prospect of having a good team were not good by “those of sober judgement.”
By the following fall the influenza pandemic had shut down Poplar Bluff.
No football champion for Southeast Missouri was declared as most teams didn’t finish their 1918 schedule. It’s the only time in the 112-year history of football in this area that occurred.
Could it happen again this fall?
“There’s a lot of unknowns,” said Poplar Bluff Athletic Director Kent Keith, who was optimistic that fall sports will be played but uncertain of how it will look.
First off, without school there are no student-athletes.
MSHSAA made that clear this spring when it canceled championship events and the entire season after the governor ended the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now with the state slowly reopening, Poplar Bluff athletes will take a small step forward starting Monday when summer workouts can begin under strict guidelines that will hopefully prevent the spread of the virus.
Keith called it “a test case” for the district.
Should the athletes and coaches be successful in following the guidelines and help prevent the spread of the virus, things can start getting back to normal when the district reopens for summer school in July.
Not all school districts are opening up workouts Monday since the governor announced an extension of the state’s “Phase 1 recover plan” to June 15. There are probably others that have been business as usual.
Every community’s response to the pandemic has been different and that has been the case at the local, state and national level.
The National Federation of State High School Associations released guidance on May 19 for states to consider in reopening athletics across the nation.
The governing body of high school sports in Illinois determined in April that summer contact days are suspended unless state government and medical leaders allow such gatherings are safe.
The Poplar Bluff football team is scheduled to open at home Aug. 28 against O’Fallon, Illinois.
“Everybody is in the same boat,” Mules coach David Sievers said. “It’s going to be tough for everybody.”
Poplar Bluff, which started playing football in 1907, was known as the Yellow Jackets because of their striped jerseys when the school returned to the football field in 1920.
They were 3-3 with wins over Malden and Dexter while losing twice to Paragould, Arkansas and 6-0 to Jackson, which won the conference title.
The 2020 Mules open SEMO North Conference play this year at Jackson on Sept. 11. There are 91 days until the season is set to kick off.
We may not know what that Friday night will be like but we can still prepare for it.
Brian Rosener is the sports editor of the Daily American Republic.