E.A. Sports Today

Under the weather

Cleburne County cancels football practice Wednesday as illness races through the team, status of Friday’s game still uncertain

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

HEFLIN – Michael Shortt has played some tough opponents in his 20 years as Cleburne County’s football coach, but the one his team is facing right now may be the toughest.

Alexandria is going to be difficult enough at L.E. Bell Field, but that’s not the opponent on the other side of the line. This week the Tigers have been fighting through a rash of illness that has impacted half his roster and threatens to postpone Friday night’s non-region game with the Valley Cubs.

More than two dozen of the Tigers’ 54 players have been sidelined with flu, bronchitis, upper respiratory infection, strep throat or similar maladies to the point Shortt canceled practice Wednesday and may do so again Thursday. The illness is not just running through the football team; the entire school has been affected.

“This is one of the toughest opponents you’ll find,” Shortt told East Alabama Sports Today Wednesday. “I’ve dealt with a lot of things, but as far as coaching this is pretty tough not being able to come to practice.

“I’ve lost practices when they said we couldn’t because of the weather, but I’ve never lost a practice because of sickness, so this is difficult to deal with, but we made the decision not to (practice) on our own because we don’t want to spread it any worse than it is.

“I thought it was better to get us away, let us clean even more, and maybe if they get away they’ll feel even better. You don’t want to get it to a point where it’s a two- or three-week deal.”

Shortt said the team took precautionary measures when the first player came down with the flu about two weeks ago, but the virus quickly spread.

With no practice Wednesday, the Tigers coaching staff – which has not been affected yet — has spent its free time cleaning and disinfecting every surface they could reach – in the locker room, in the field house and on their gear.

“We may not have any paint on the walls when we get done,” Shortt said. “We do this anyway, but sometimes you can’t fight it … and you just have to let it run its course.”

This isn’t the first time Shortt has had to deal with widespread illness. He remembers something similar when the Tigers were preparing for Anniston while a strain of swine flu ran through the community at the end of the last decade.

“We got some (players) back Friday,” he recalled. “We had to play a way bunch of players. Some weren’t ready to play because those kids didn’t have any energy in them.”

Alexandria coach Frank Tucker is aware of the situation. His eighth-ranked Valley Cubs were practicing for the game Wednesday afternoon and he wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Shortt said it’s “a little early yet” to make a determination about having enough players for the game. If the game is canceled it will not be rescheduled and would be recorded as a forfeit against the Tigers’ record. As healthy as the rivalry is – 62 games, 49 since 1963 — the Tigers stand to lose an estimated $8-10,000 gate.

“We’re still far out, it’s Wednesday, so we’re a ways away from making a decision; that would probably be a late Thursday afternoon or Friday morning,” Shortt said. “Some (players) may come back Friday, but how can you come back without practice? If it’s an older kid who’s been through program we could spot kids; if it’s one of young ones playing already it’ll be difficult.

“I’ll do whatever’s best for our school and our kids and Alexandria’s kids, too; it’ll be a mutual decision. It’ll be a decision that will be in the best interest of both schools.”

We hope you enjoyed this free content from East Alabama Sports Today. Subscribe to the website today for access to all the website has to offer.

On the cover: Cleburne County coach Michael Shortt (fifth from left) leads his team off the field after a game in the Piedmont 7-on-7 tournament earlier this summer. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

You must be logged in to post a comment Login