COVID-19: For Fort Hill football, skepticism is becoming reality

Mar 3, 2021
Kyle Bennett

CUMBERLAND — After student-athletes had been caught in no man’s land on a decision over whether or not fall sports would be played, it was understandable that there would be some skepticism. For Fort Hill football, it was no different.

“I think in the beginning, there was kind of a sense of ‘OK, sure, this is going to happen,’” head coach Zack Alkire said of his student-athletes. “They didn’t really think it was. There was a lot of skepticism. But over the course of the last couple of days, once the weather has warmed up — hopefully we escaped the winter weather — the attitudes have gotten better and the excitement level is up.”

The pandemic has also forced some non-permanent coaching changes for the four-game season.

“We have to be on the turf and share the field with Allegany,” Alkire said of the assistants, clarifying that they aren’t going to be gone from the coaching staff forever, “so practice time has been tough and caused some coaches to not be there, some experience we’ve had before in the coaching staff just won’t be here this season.

“But we brought in some younger guys to help at the JV level and brought up some JV coaches to help with varsity. It’s a little bit of a challenge to acclimate everybody into what we’re doing.”

The Sentinels got a game in before athletics were paused by Allegany County Public School, a 31-6 win over Mountain Ridge at Greenway Avenue Stadium. Co-Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 Breven Stubbs led the charge, rushing nine times for 151 yards with two scores and completing 1 of 2 passes for 44 yards and a touchdown to give Alkire his first win as head coach of the varsity team.

Stubbs & Co. were forced to change the way they work out during the break, as student-organized team activities of any fashion were frowned upon. Alkire adapted, trying to give every player as equal an opportunity to better themselves as possible.

“Since the kids came back in the fall, they’ve been given weekly workouts,” he said. “So I would create a logbook for them and they would have to record workouts in this logbook. Basically what I did is I knew some kids had access to an entire weight room while some kids had access to nothing.

“It was basically a three-tiered workout where if a kid had access to a full weight room, this is the workout you should do. If you just have dumbbells, this is what you should do. If you don’t have access to any weights, these are the body workouts we want you to do. Being able to do something is better than nothing. Some of that has us trusting them to do the workouts and just hoping they’re dedicated enough to do them, but we can tell most of them did.”

The Sentinels are on a bye this week while Allegany and Mountain Ridge open the season at Greenway. They begin the season next Friday against their only opponent from the 2020 portion of the calendar before playing Allegany the following Friday.

Fort Hill is then off a week before traveling to Mountain Ridge on April 1 and playing a Saturday afternoon clash against Allegany a week later.

“I think it’s important, especially for seniors, to get the opportunity to play,” said Alkire. “Even though it’s a four-game season against in-county opponents, it’s better than nothing. I was hoping we’d be able to reach out to other counties if it would be allowed, but we understand they take a much deeper look at it than probably we are. We’ll make the best of it and hopefully the kids will make the most of it and make some memories.”

COVID-19 has forced some student-athletes to sit out the season, with work being a large factor.

“We had a handful of kids decide that they weren’t going to play in the spring,” said Alkire. “Most of that centered around worries about COVID-19 and bringing the virus home to their family, but also work. Work was a big thing, kids who’d been working 20 to 40 hours per week helping their families during this time. I told each and every one of them they’re still part of the program and are always welcome back in the future. We support them in any way we can.”




Members of the Fort Hill Sentinels return to the field after halftime of their game last fall at Greenway Avenue Stadium against Mountain Ridge. The Sentinels won, 31-6, and the season was halted the next week. It will resume for the Sentinels when they host Mountain Ridge on Friday, March 12. Fort Hill has a bye this week while the Miners visit Allegany on Friday at Greenway Avenue Stadium.
PHOTO: Ken Nolan/Times-News