Gov. Jim Justice has made many decisions that West Virginians can disagree with, but last week he made one that all Mountain State residents can (or should) support: High school bands may perform at football games.
On Monday, Aug. 24, the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission decided that COVID-19 precautions should prevent bands from performing. Sure, players could get out on the football field and get in each other’s face and wrestle and push and all that. It was a reasonable risk to preserve a fall tradition (and secure an income stream). But band? Too dangerous, the SSAC said.
The public outcry was predictable. And rightly so. To allow football and cheerleading but not band performances denied band students their own opportunities to participate in a fall tradition.
Marching band students put a lot of work into their routines, too, the same as athletes and cheerleaders.
“Many times those involved in music and arts in general are pushed to the bottom and are already struggling to get the same level of attention and recognition of other organizations,” Wayne County parent Vanessa Moser told Nikki Dotson Merritt of HD Media after the SSAC’s initial decision. “Being able to perform on the sidelines and at halftime was these kids’ last chance at having a season, and now (that) decision has made some of them feel as though they are ‘nonessential.’ They are using the same terminology that we as adults have been using throughout this pandemic to show that they feel like band is being considered not as important as other organizations.”
On Tuesday, Aug. 25, Justice said there will be band at games.
“Yesterday, the WVSSAC announced that our marching bands would not be able to perform at extracurricular activities this fall,” Justice said Tuesday in a news release. “This decision was made without my input.”
Justice said health officials worked with the WVSSAC and the Department of Education to develop new guidelines in order for students in marching band to perform at football games throughout the upcoming season.
There will be restrictions. The SSAC’s new rules require a separate seating area for band members (not in the bleachers), a separate seating area for band parents and families, social distancing (a diamond formation is recommended) and face coverings to be worn.
Additional requirements suggest only the percussion section plays during the game, encourages the use of instrument bell covers, and calls for separate entrances and exits to the facility for band members and their families.
That still sounds like overkill, but there is time to tinker with those rules before the season starts or ends. And it will be interesting to see how strictly those rules are enforced.
It was obvious to anyone not employed by the SSAC that canceling band performances at football games was a bad idea. It may have been motivated by a sincere desire to limit students’ exposure to the coronavirus. Or it may have been guided by the idea that football is important and band isn’t, so let’s use this opportunity to ditch band. Either way, it was wrong and it’s been corrected.