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Area football teams pushing ahead toward Friday despite storm-shortened practice week
Tropical Storm Irma causes squads to miss first two days of practice this week
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West Hall's Cooper Adams (28) runs with the ball on Friday during the Battle of Oakwood in Oakwood. - photo by David Barnes

West Hall High coach Tony Lotti said he seeks to turn everything his players encounter into an enduring life lesson.

This week, the Spartans have plenty to learn from.

West Hall, along with every other area team, has had to deal with the effects of Tropical Storm Irma all while preparing for Friday night’s round of games. For coaches, that means implementing game plans and keeping their players focused on a shortened practice schedule.

“We’re trying to look at things positively,” Lotti said. “ … We’re using it as a life lesson. We have no control over it, so we’re not focusing on it. We’re going to focus on what we can control. We can’t control the weather or not being able to practice. We’ll line up best we can and just play.”

Teams were unable to practice Monday and Tuesday as Irma wrought the worst of its damage on the area, mostly property damage and widespread power outages caused by fallen trees.

Consequently, Hall County Schools remained closed today, while Gainesville City Schools will be shut down to students through the end of this week.

But some squads finally got back on the practice field Wednesday, kickstarting a truncated practice week in which coaches must synthesize the usual four days’ of work into just two.

“For us, biggest thing was trying to find what we needed to work on and improve on from last Friday in relation to the game plan for this Friday,” North Hall High coach David Bishop said. “Normally we’ve got a whole day to just focus on getting better from what we did last Friday. 

“But since we didn’t get that Monday practice this week, now it’s just a matter of improving from our last game and tying those improvements into our game plan for this week.”

With only half as much time for actual on-field work, coaches got out in front of the mental aspect of preparing their players for Friday night. 

Lotti said he sent out film and game plans using Hudl, a website designed for sharing game tape, last Saturday. Bishop distributed his scouting reports earlier this week, though he said some players couldn’t receive them due to lack of cellphone or internet service caused by the storm.

“We had to reach out and see what we can do from that aspect,” Bishop said. “ … “We’re just trying to utilize the time we have.”

As of Wednesday evening, both Lotti and Bishop said their teams would take the field at 7:30 p.m. Friday as scheduled — West Hall at Dawson County High, and North Hall against White County High in Gainesville.

Other area schools weren’t so lucky.

Habersham County High had to push back its home against Stephens County High one day to 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Per a Habersham County Schools news release, the rescheduling and accompanying shutdown of its schools for the rest of this week were due to “widespread devastation in our county and a slow recovery.”

Despite the unfortunate circumstances facing prep football teams in Northeast Georgia, coaches acknowledged those were secondary to the more meaningful burdens resulting from Irma.

Lotti said many of his players were still without power, and some among them had trees fall on their homes. Those concerns preoccupied him far more than scouting Dawson County, though the Spartans’ return to practice Wednesday slightly alleviated both issues.

“Sometimes you don’t get the right cards, but I believe in trying to play a bad hand well,” Lotti said of preparing on a short week. “The fortunate thing is I saw all the kids today, and they’re all OK. That was my No. 1 concern anyway. 

“Just being able to keep in touch, getting to see them and know they’re OK, that’s a big plus.”

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