Safety of players should be top priority

I understand the push to try to get as many high school football games played as possible, especially as we continue to fight through the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous games have been postponed and rescheduled this season as teams struggle to complete their schedule.

Football revenue is critical to the overall athletic program, especially at a time like this when attendance is already depressed. But while revenue is important, I don’t feel we should sacrifice athlete safety, even in the name of the almighty dollar.

For some time now, we’ve preached about the dangers of concussions and other serious injuries that can occur on a football field, injuries that cause permanent damage to the young people who play this game. That’s why I have a major concern about all the rescheduling that’s going on, and the frequency with which some teams find themselves on the football field.

Practice is something a coach can control each day, determining just how much, or any, heavy physical activity in which his team will take part. Games are different. You don’t take plays off if you expect to win. Everybody is expected to go full speed all the time.

And that’s where I’ve got an issue. I don’t think schools should legally be allowed as they are now to play football games in well under six days. Even young, healthy bodies need time to heal and recuperate following the kind of heavy physical contact that takes place during a football game.

I think it’s long past time that the NCHSAA enact a rule setting an absolute minimum of five days between football games. I think that would allow some flexibility in rescheduling and provide a minimum safety margin. I think there also should be some flexibility in contracts signed between schools locking them into a certain football schedule. There should be an escape clause of some kind for nonconference games that would allow them to be dropped if needed so a more important conference game could be moved with greater ease to ensure it is played.

I just don’t want to see the rush to play turn into a tragedy because scheduling won out over safety.

I was deeply saddened to learn Thursday morning of the passing of Arnold Pope, a longtime high school athletic official and the father of my former co-worker at The Fayetteville Observer, Thomas Pope.

The elder Pope was a United Methodist minister and former Dean of Students at Methodist University. 

He briefly worked as a coach at Terry Sanford High School in the 1980s when he coached the wrestling team.

This story may sound unbelievable, but it is true. Pope’s Terry Sanford team met Pine Forest one evening when the official for the wrestling match didn’t show up.

The opposing coach knew that Pope was a wrestling official, so he agreed to allow Pope to call the match despite the fact that his own Terry Sanford team was wrestling.

Sonny Basinger, who was the Pine Forest athletic director at the time, commented that he had no issue with the decision because he trusted Pope’s unquestionable integrity.

In addition to his 43 years as a high school official, Pope was a world class weightlifter. He is a member of two weightlifting halls of fame and for 20 years competed in the Scottish Games.

He was the North American caber toss champion in 1976 and was the first American to win a caber-tossing championship in Scotland the same year.

In 2013 the senior Pope was inducted into the Fayetteville Sports Club Hall of Fame.

Neil Buie, a former regional supervisor of football officials for the Southeastern Athletic Officials Association, called on Pope to work as an observer of his officials after he retired from on-field work.

“He didn’t want to be paid for it,’’ Buie said of Pope’s role. “He loved being there, loved being with the guys.’’

Buie said Pope had a love for high school athletics that was unparalleled.

A celebration of life service is scheduled Oct. 9 at 2 p.m. Cokesbury United Methodist Church. Visitation is noon to 1:45 p.m.

Molnar

Terry Sanford basketball standout Davis Molnar announced via Twitter Thursday that he is committing to play for Furman University.

This past season, Molnar helped lead the Bulldogs to the Patriot Athletic Conference title, an 11-2 record and the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association basketball playoffs.

He was named first team all-conference. He averaged 17.3 points per game and 10.8 rebounds. He led Cumberland County Schools players in assists with 6.5 per game.

Molnar is also a soccer standout for the Bulldogs, who are 11-4 through Wednesday’s games in the All-American Conference.

Molnar leads Cumberland County Schools goal scorers with 20, along with eight assists, for 48 points. 

• I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has reached out and sent words of encouragement and support following my recent health crisis.

I’m glad to report I’ve received excellent medical care and am well on the way to what I expect will be a complete recovery.

I am cutting back a little on my workload as I continue to recuperate, so for the rest of this season I won’t be doing my column predicting the outcome of each week’s high school football games.

Starting today, I will be resuming The Press Box newsletter, so thanks again to all who subscribe to it each week. Let’s get back to work.