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Friday night football broadcasts set to resume


By Earl Vaughan Jr.

As they say in show business, the show must go on.

Terry Sanford High School football play-by-play announcer Trey Edge is taking that phrase to heart as the Bulldogs join other North Carolina public schools with the start of a pandemic-delayed season that kicked off last Friday.

For at least six months, Edge said he and the folks at radio station WFNC have been looking forward to the day when high school football returned. Edge said he has remained in regular contact with local coaches and was hopeful that at the worst, there would be a chance for some football by the spring of this year.

“We were going to partner with WFNC and do it in a way we could bring a quality broadcast to the county,’’ he said.

The county schools and other high schools nationally have joined with the National Federation of State High School Associations to provide a subscription service to the NFHS Network. The service will allow fans to pay $10.99 for a streaming video service that will send a variety of high school games, including football, both live and delayed, to home computers, iPads and smartphones.

But the NFHS service has its limits. It features a single camera angle, and there is no audio commentary to explain what’s happening.

That is why Edge feels the radio element of the coverage is crucial, especially in this pandemic season.

“The ways to get the action on a Friday night are limited,’’ Edge said. “Football on the radio in this area is a tradition, and we want to be able to continue it, even moreso this year.’’

COVID-19 restrictions on spectators make the broadcasts even more important.

The rules were recently relaxed in the latest executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper. Each school can now have 30 percent of its stadium capacity admitted to games. For the 10 Cumberland County senior high schools, that number is close to 1,000 per school.

All tickets have to be purchased online. There will be no ticket gate at the games, no public sale of tickets to fans walking up.

“The ability to hear or view what’s going on each Friday night is going to be severely hampered,’’ Edge said. “If we can do it with our radio broadcast where people can tune in, that’s important to us.

“That’s more important this spring season than in any season we’ve broadcast before.’’

But the pandemic is going to challenge Edge and his broadcast team to do as good a job as they have in the past.

As with everything right now, COVID protocols will extend to the press box where Edge normally sits to do games each week. They will force a change in the makeup and even the location where Edge works on a given Friday night.

For starters, he’s trimmed his normal three-man announcing crew, which includes himself, a color commentator in the booth and a sideline reporter on the field, by one person.

Bill Boyette is doing the color commentary, as well as going down to the field at certain points in the broadcast to interview Bulldog head coach Bruce McClelland.

Even the field interviews will be subject to COVID protocols. They will use two microphones and observe social distancing, with covers on the microphones that can be replaced after each interview is finished.

“We’re adjusting like everyone else,’’ Edge said. He thinks the two-man crew will still be able to share the story of the game but admits losing the sideline reporter during actual play will hurt.

“He can see kids coming on and off the field,’’ Edge said. “He can hear coaches. It’s a direct link to the feel of the game. It’s just a great way to get a different point of view.’’

Even so, Edge feels the radio link to the public is important for everyone unable to actually attend the games, a number that will reach unprecedented levels during this pandemic season.

He said it’s not only a connection to the game of football, but for some it’s a link to the community and, for Terry Sanford grads, a link to their alma mater.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are,’’ he said. “You always have a draw back to your high school. Doing those games has taught me people really place an incredible amount of value in what they get to listen to, whether it’s a good broadcast or not.

“It’s a link back to their past, something they love, and we’ve all been there.’’

Another issue Edge has to deal with is getting permission to call the away games on Terry Sanford’s schedule.

Vernon Aldridge, student activities director for the Cumberland County Schools, said it’s up to each school to decide whether they will allow radio coverage at their home games.

“Some don’t have the capacity to socially distance in their press box,’’ Aldridge said. He did say it is possible for schools to allow a radio crew to set up in the stands on the visiting side of the stadium.

At Terry Sanford, Edge will have no problem with space in the new Terry Sanford press box. There are three separate rooms in the booth, which will allow adequate space between Edge, his color commentator, and the Terry Sanford public address announcer and clock operators.

As for away games, Edge must get permission from each school on Terry Sanford’s abbreviated schedule this year.

Should Terry Sanford qualify for the N.C. High School Athletic Association state playoffs, Edge said it will be a week-to-week process to see if Terry Sanford games will be aired if the Bulldogs have to travel.

“We did two games from the visiting stands (in 2019) so it’s not something we haven’t done before,’’ he said. “We just hope it warms up a little bit. We’ll make every effort to be on the road with them.’’

Edge had planned to eliminate the weekly coaches’ show with Bruce McClelland that was held live at a local restaurant.

After not having a show during the first week of the season, it resumed this week in a virtual format, and will be posted as a video podcast on the WFNC radio Facebook page every Wednesday by 8 p.m.

“You can paint a picture for someone listening on the radio that’s very personal,’’ Edge said.

Even while wearing a mask, social distancing and possibly sitting in the visiting stands.