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Uncertainty continues about start of football

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By John R. Schirmer

News-Leader staff

114 days.

That’s the countdown to the Nashville Scrappers’ season opener Aug. 28 at home against Pleasant Grove, Texas. Whether or not the first game will actually be played on that date is anybody’s guess.

With Arkansas schools closed to on-site instruction through the remainder of the academic year because of the coronavirus pandemic, athletic events are also cancelled.

The Arkansas Activities Association imposed a dead period on athletic competition and practice through at least May 30. A decision on summer practice, fall camp and the beginning of the season could come then.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced last Friday that gyms and other fitness locations could open this week, but that does not include school athletic facilities, according to the AAA.

For Scrapper Coach Mike Volarvich, the wait continues.

“For eight weeks, we’ve not seen our players,” Volarvich said Friday morning. He hopes they continue to “stay active by running and exercising on their own while continuing to practice social distancing. Some have weight sets at home.”

The uncertainty means that it’s “tough to build a schedule now. We don’t know a start date. It could be June 1, July 1, Aug. 1. We have to play it by ear until the time when the state says we can see the guys again,” Volarvich said.

In a normal spring, the Scrappers would be in off-season. Spring football would be next, followed by a scrimmage on or around the last day of school. Summer conditioning and team camps would take up June and July.

Instead, Volarvich spent part of Friday morning assigning jersey numbers to some of the players.

“Obviously, this is a little different situation. We can’t treat June like June in the past. You had a level you built to with conditioning and the weight room [in off-season]. You worked on certain parts of football in spring ball [in May]. In June, you’d continue,” according to Volarvich.

With no school and no daily athletic period, Volarvich isn’t certain about the shape his players will be in when they are allowed to return. 

“I can be an optimist and think the team is working out. The reality of it is that when we come back, the last time some did anything physical will be three or four months ago. There’ll be some who slept in and played video games. Those kids will have a rude awakening when they return,” Volarvich said.

“As coaches, we have to ease them in. I just hope the majority have done what they could. The last time we had them was March 

13. Today [May 1] was seven weeks since we had them. They’ve been out nearly two full months,” according to Volarvich.

“When you work out at a certain level and stop, it’s easier to lose what you’ve done than to gain it back. Some players had improved 30 pounds or more on benchpress from January through the middle of March. By not working out for two months, what can that do to the body,” Volarvich said.

“As a coach, it’s a rough time. The only comfort is that everybody is in the same boat. Other teams probably have some working out, some not. It will be an interesting time when we get our people back.”

If the coronavirus threat decreases and teams return in July, “That would be enough time,” Volarvich said. “All those decisions are above my pay grade. There are a lot of scientists and decision makers that have things figured out better than a bunch of high school football coaches.”

During the unplanned break, “We’ve been in the process of hiring coaches. There has been some staff shuffling,” Volarvich said.

Coach Rick Baker retired from coaching junior high football. He will continue to coach senior boys track.

Coach Ted Green retired from junior high football and track,. “Those guys had a lot of years in the program. We appreciate all they’ve done,” Volarvich said.

Kirk Benson will move from a high school assistant position to head coach at junior high.

Brian “Boomer” Brown is back on the Nashville coaching staff. John Martin remains at junior high.

Zach Stewart was hired from Central Arkansas Christian as an assistant football coach, possibly at junior high, and assistant baseball coach. Stewart is no stranger to Scrapper athletics. He is married to the former Jana Copeland of Nashville.

“This staff brings a lot of energy,” Volarvich said. “Junior high kids will really enjoy playing for them. They’re really good people who will love up the kids there.”

At high school, Wade Matlock has returned to the Scrapper program after coaching in Arkadelphia.

Former Scrapper Chris Benson is back in Nashville as an assistant coach.

Coach Brian Bearden and Coach Jimi Easterling will be in their usual positions.

The Scrappers have one more coaching position to fill – defensive coordinator.

“This has been a long process with a lot of moving parts,” Volarvich said of the coaching shuffle.

Hiring staff has been “harder because of the long break. It’s been a process with all the uncertainty. I’m happy with the results so far,” Volarvich said.