Kelly Ford made sure all the Rowan County Vikings turned their cameras on their devices or computers on before their Zoom session on Wednesday morning.
Rowan County's coach wanted to look them in the eye -- virtually -- as he delivered tough news: their season is over.
Two days before the Vikings were to play in their first state quarterfinal in 38 years, they were shut down on Wednesday morning in the coronavirus contact tracing process.
Rowan County beat Boyd County in the Class 4A, District 6 championship game on Friday night. A Lion subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, and both counties' health departments and Rowan County's administration consulted on the decision to halt the Vikings' season, Ford said.
"It was hard for me. I barely could get it out," Ford said of the virtual announcement to his team. "I was tearing up. This experience was the first time I ever had to do something like this in my coaching career, to deliver some news like this. To see my 50 kids just disheartened once I told them, it was really sad."
The Vikings were to travel to Boyle County on Friday to participate in the state round of eight in their class for the first time since 1982. That won't happen, but Ford and the Vikings are trying to emphasize the positives Rowan County achieved this season: first district title in a decade and a winning record at 4-3.
Ford added that the Vikings' efforts to better themselves individually and collectively made this season better. He called their accomplishments this season "the roof" to the foundation they began laying in 2017.
"That's the first thing that I told my guys this morning on Zoom, that we gotta look at the positives," Ford said. "We were thankful that we got to play this year. If you went back to July, it didn't even look like we were gonna have a season, and we get to this point.
"It was tough telling them, but all in all, we're still looking at all of the positives that came out of this thing. We got to practice on Thanksgiving, things that never have happened here at Rowan County before."
Rowan County practiced Monday, Ford said, but got word of a possible situation on Tuesday afternoon and canceled practice that day at the request of Rowan County's administration. The program was shuttered for the year on Wednesday morning.
"As an administration, we are heartbroken for our student-athletes and our coaching staff," Rowan County Senior High School principal and athletic director Brandy Carver said. "They have persevered through unprecedented circumstances to make it to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1982.
"Although this is not how we would have liked to end our season, we are extremely proud of our team and what they have accomplished this year."
Ford called this week's events another teaching point in a year full of them.
"Never take anything for granted. Live every day to the fullest," he said. "We're in this business to help young guys and teach everyday life skills. This was a great lesson here today, even though it was a negative spin for us. But it was great for us as a learning tool to hopefully help these guys down the road."
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