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If you plan on going to a high school football game this season, you may want to glance at a checklist before going out of the door.
Dressed appropriately for the weather? Check. Proudly sporting your team's colors? Check. Got enough money for the concession stand? Check.
But the most important thing to check before you leave is the kickoff time. Now more than ever, that's the big variable across West Virginia in prep football.
Of the 116 state high schools sponsoring football, 63 of them now begin all or the majority of their home games at 7 p.m., according to information listed on the Secondary School Activities Commission website. That number has grown every year the past few seasons, leaving 53 schools still kicking off most home games at 7:30.
Some of the choice is regional — all of the Eastern Panhandle teams and most of the Northern Panhandle teams have been going at 7 p.m. for several years. Last season, the Big Ten Conference in North Central West Virginia followed suit. Some of that is regulated by local conference mandates, but most schools going at 7 cite the benefits of getting home earlier, especially for visiting teams with long trips to make.
There are, however, still some strongholds for starting games at 7:30 — mostly in southern West Virginia, especially teams in all classes in the greater Charleston, Huntington and Beckley areas.
The 11-team Mountain State Athletic Conference, the largest Class AAA league in the state, dabbled with 7 p.m. kickoffs two years ago, but it caused a backlash from visiting coaches worried about getting their teams fed, transported and dressed on time, so most reverted back to 7:30 the following season.
In fact, the only MSAC team still starting home games at 7 is Cabell Midland. All five of the Knights' road games are set for 7:30, and all five of their home games at 7.
"I like 7, we like 7," said Chris Parsons, Midland's athletic director. "I wish everyone would go at 7. I don't get 7:30.
"There's not that long time when school lets out until the game. Most [fans] can get home from work and grab a bite to eat, but a lot of them tailgate here anyway. I know [local media] like it. As long as my principal says he likes it, that's what we'll do. Now if the other team makes a special request, we might bump it back to 7:30."
Two other MSAC teams that have utilized 7 p.m. kickoffs the past two seasons decided this year to return to 7:30 — Parkersburg and Hurricane.
Parkersburg AD Chris Way understands some schools preferring the earlier starts, especially for travel concerns, but felt like there were just as many reasons for his program to go at 7:30.
"Some people think that going at 7:30 gives you a little more time to get there," he said, "and in August, September and even October, it gives the weather a chance to cool down a little bit, so it won't be so hot. And we have [artificial] turf, too, which is a little bit warmer.
"Our coach [Mike Byus] didn't really have a preference, so we went with what the conference recommends, which is a 7:30 start time. The best thing, really, is to get some consistency so that fans weren't confused. One weekend, you're starting at 7 and the next weekend 7:30, so I kind of pushed for everybody to do the same starting time. But not everybody agrees."
In many parts of the state, it's actually pretty easy for fans to get confused about what time their team's games kick off, because seldom is there total uniformity.
-Of the 14 northern West Virginia SSAC schools competing in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference, 13 start home games at 7. Only Brooke goes at 7:30.
-In Putnam County, three of the four schools now kick off most or all of their home games at 7 (Buffalo, Poca, Winfield), but Hurricane has flipped back to 7:30.
-Traveling to Wood County this season? Parkersburg South and Parkersburg Catholic go at 7, but Parkersburg, as described above, has gone back to 7:30.
-Playing a team in the Class AA Cardinal Conference? Remember that six of the 10 schools kick off home games at 7:30, but for Mingo Central, Nitro, Poca and Winfield, it's 7.
-Got a trip scheduled to play in Fayette County? If it's to Fayetteville, Meadow Bridge, Midland Trail or Valley, get there by 7:30. But if it's Oak Hill, get there by 7.
-Heading up to Touchdown City? Remember, Morgantown starts its games at 7, but crosstown University at 7:30.
There exists the real possibility that some visiting schools will be ready for kickoff too early or too late this season, as dozens of teams' SSAC schedules have their road games listed at the incorrect time for where they're playing, unaware that the home team starts at a different time than they do.
And fans of certain schools need to scan their schedules closely every week:
-Class AA Bluefield and Class A St. Marys each have four games listed with 7 p.m. kickoffs and six at 7:30.
-Class AAA Wheeling Park plays all five of its home games at Island Stadium at 7, but road dates with Brooke, Parkersburg and University begin at 7:30.
-Class A Van has one of the most convoluted schedules — three road games at 7:30, two road games at 7, two home dates at 7:30, two home dates at 7 and a 250-mile Oct. 13 trip to Madonna for a 1 p.m. kickoff on a Saturday.
On the opening weekend of the season (Aug. 23-25), a total of 32 games kick off at 7 and 27 others at 7:30.
About the only place that 7:30 games still rule is the postseason, as the SSAC hasn't changed its bylaws, which mandate kickoffs of playoff games at 7:30 Friday, or 1:30 and 7:30 on Saturdays.
Bernie Dolan, executive director of the SSAC, said there has been past conversation on the issue of allowing teams that use 7 p.m. kickoffs in the regular season to go with the earlier times in the postseason, but also said the SSAC's football committee did not discuss the topic at its most recent meeting.
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