Like most high school football coaches around South Carolina, Lee Taylor was surprised by what he saw making the rounds on social media late Thursday night.
It was at that time the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas announced that its annual all-star game in Spartanburg between top senior football players in North and South Carolina would be canceled for the second straight year because of COVID-19.
Taylor, an assistant football coach at Laurens and president of the S.C. Football Coaches Association, thought the decision was a little premature and thought Shrine Bowl officials might wait until next month before making a final decision. But he also acknowledged that that SCFCA has little input on decisions made associated with the postseason all-star game.
“We didn’t even know they were considering it, to be honest with you,” Taylor said of canceling the game. “I think it was a shock to everyone. We are disappointed. We are disappointed for the kids, coaches and it is a great fundraiser for the Shriners Hospital.
“I would have said, tap the brakes a little bit and see how it plays out a little down the road, and see how it plays out before making a decision.”
Shrine Bowl game chairman Ronnie Blount said through a statement late Thursday that the decision was made out of safety and that all avenues were discussed with trying to put on the game, set for Dec. 18 at Wofford College, as safely as possible.
“With the pandemic continuing to evolve, the current circumstances, and the monumental efforts required in safely preparing for Shrine Bowl week in Spartanburg, and playing the game, are those that the board feels we cannot achieve in the best interest of everyone at this time.” Blount said in the statement. “In short, if we are not able to produce a great quality game as we have done for 83 years and provide the best game environment possible for our sponsors, players, coaches, staff, medical personnel and patrons, then we should not play the game this year.”
Taylor said he fielded texts and phone calls from coaches around the state Friday, all voicing their displeasure about the cancellation.
Taylor hasn’t ruled out the possibility of some sort of new South Carolina vs. North Carolina all-star game being played. The S.C. Football Coaches Association will meet next month and that will be one of the topics of discussion, he said. N.C. coaches would have to be on board with such a proposal.
While Taylor was disappointed, Berkeley High’s Jerry Brown agreed with the decision and wasn’t totally shocked. Brown was supposed to be the coach of the South Carolina squad for this year’s game.
Brown said he talked with Shrine Bowl officials a few weeks ago about the challenges schools were having to play each week but still didn’t there was talks about canceling.
“You could see the handwriting on the wall,” Brown told The State on Friday morning. “I think everyone understands. We have been here, done that before. This isn’t going away until you get vaccinated. That is why you see the NFL and colleges getting guys vaccinated. They are good to go. In high school, we can’t count on players or coaches.
“You can’t play team sports when you count on players or coaches being there.”
Despite no game, Shrine Bowl rosters still will be selected and announced early in October. Brown said picking the 2021 team has been a challenge at times because not everyone has played the same amount of games. Coaches have done a good job sending film of prospects from last year to watch, he said.
The Shrine Bowl is one of two high-profile all-star football games held annually in South Carolina, with the other the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Bowl, which features 88 seniors from across the state. This year’s game — also known as the North-South game — is scheduled for Dec. 11 at Myrtle Beach High’s Doug Shaw Stadium. Westside High head coach Scott Earley said that game is scheduled to go on as planned. An inaugural junior showcase will be the day before, also at Doug Shaw Stadium.
Earley said he has been in touch with the S.C. High School League, medical personnel and people from the Myrtle Beach community, which help host the game.
“We are not going to pull the cord unless we have to. We are going to figure out and play this game and follow as many of the protocols and stay as safe as we can,” Earley said. “Some physicians have gave me the analogy that the Delta variant is like a hurricane and we are in week eight of a 12-week hurricane. They urged me not to cancel this game. They believe it will hit its peak and die down when the weather changes. We are optimistic about playing the game.
“If we could play region games, if we can play playoff games and then a state championship, we could play the Touchstone Energy Bowl. That is the approach we are taking.”
Earley said he hopes to have the rosters released on Oct. 18 and that players selected for the Shrine Bowl also can be picked for the Touchstone Energy game. But the normal selection criteria will still be followed, such as only two players per school can be picked and every region in the state must be represented.
With Shrine Bowl players being allowed, Earley acknowledged there might be some players normally picked that might not be selected this year. But the overall talent in the game might be the best it’s ever been.
“It will probably knock some people out that would be selected, but the staff of the Touchstone Energy Bowl’s charge is to get this right and pick the 88 best players in the state of South Carolina,” Earley said. “The cream of the crop will be in Myrtle Beach on Dec. 11.”