WEST POINT, Ala. – Lee Henry, coach of the perennial powerhouse scholars’ bowl teams of West Point High School and Middle School, was not a happy man when his students’ visions of a state championship and another trip to the national tournament in Chicago came to an abrupt end in the COVID-19 shutdown. Now, as the new president of the Alabama Scholastic Competition Association (ASCA), he is committed to seeing scholars’ bowl competitions resume with whatever modifications have to be made to keep students safe and meet state health regulations.
“Back in the spring, everything really got canceled very abruptly. We didn’t get to do our varsity state tournament; all the national tournaments were canceled,” said Henry. “It was pretty heartbreaking, especially for our seniors who, you know, they don’t get another shot at it. I thought we had a really good shot at getting the 5A title back to West Point, but I guess we’ll never know, now.
“But over the summer, things continued getting canceled and pushed. Several of my kids did an online quiz camp. Last summer, they were able to go in person; this summer, they moved it online. They spent several hours a day using Zoom with coaches all over the country, and had some tournaments in the afternoons where they’d use Zoom and some web-based buzzers. I participated in that, too; I was an instructor. I got to see how that worked, and it’s better than nothing.”
Taking charge of competition across Alabama
Said Henry, “Of course, this year, I take over as president of ASCA, the Alabama Scholastic Competition Association, which is a huge honor, but I never expected it to be under these conditions. I don’t want to be the president that causes the problems, you know, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. I’ve got a really good board; the ASCA board’s made up of great coaches and teachers from all over the state. Yesterday, in fact, I emailed all of them with a few suggestions I have on what we might be able to do, and I’m looking forward to getting feedback on that.
“At the end of the day, one way or another, we’ll have scholars’ bowl in Alabama this year, even if it’s all online. That’s the worst case scenario, is it’ll all be online. I refuse to believe we’re going to let it get canceled outright, you know. As of right now, they’re still planning on playing football, having band and I guess basketball and everything else. Those things you absolutely cannot do online, but there are ways that you can do scholars’ bowl, and probably math team and things like that, in online settings. So we’re going to see what we can do.
“I’ve been in contact with Christine O’Leary at Wallace (State Community College), and they’re looking at what we might be able to do for our after-school matches and our county tournaments, and I’m still holding out hope that we can do those in person with some social distancing, maybe have the kids wear some masks, maybe get rid of the written parts and stuff like that where they really have to huddle together. I think we can still do that, if everybody’ll get on board with it. Wallace has always been very supportive; they’ve been a good partner to us. I anticipate they’ll continue to help us out, help these kids get what they need.”
Online competitions starting
Henry said his middle school team has its first online tournament coming up Aug. 22, and it will be a different kind of experience. The online environment is not subject to typical geographic limitations: the event is being coordinated by a student at Yale University, and teams will be signing in from across the country.
Said Henry, “The scary part about going online with this is, suddenly, every tournament you go to has the potential to be a national tournament, because teams from all over the country will be competing, instead of just local teams and Alabama teams. So that’s one thing we have to look at when we start going into these online tournaments, since geography is no longer an issue. I already looked: I saw teams from Texas and several places like that who are already registered for this. It’s definitely going to be a challenge; some of the top teams in the country, and we have to face off against them in our first tournament of the year. But it’ll be a good experience for them, and hopefully we can get back to regular in-person, buzzer-in-hand scholars’ bowl sooner than later.”
The need for scholastic competition
Henry told The Tribune, “For a lot of kids in Alabama, scholars’ bowl is just as important to them as football or basketball, anything is to other kids. I just want them all to know that we’re going to be fighting, doing everything we can to make sure they have as good and as safe a season as possible. That’s what we’re dedicated to doing, and I have the utmost faith in my board members, that we’re going to come together and come up with a good plan, whatever that may be.
“The first official ASCA tournaments are not until January; everything up until then will be like local leagues or invitationals. So I’m holding out hope: my plan A is that in January we can go and do everything as we always did. But I’m also realistic, and I know that may not happen, so we will have a plan B and C, and we’re working on that right now.”
How are West Point’s teams doing?
Henry shared, “One thing I wanted to say from the local West Point side of things is that, this year, I have no seniors now. So regardless of what this season looks like, we’re going to use it to get better and continue to improve, so that the kids grow and we continue to have a successful team. I think we will be- continue to be successful. We have a lot of support from the administration, both at West Point and at Cullman County Schools. (Cullman County Schools Superintendent) Dr. (Shane) Barnette’s probably one of the most supportive superintendents I’ve worked with. I’ve never asked for something and been told no.”
The Tribune is committed to keeping up with all competitive school teams, with and without cleats, including scholars’ bowl, math teams, SkillsUSA and others. If you are a coach, faculty sponsor, volunteer or parent, be sure to get in touch with us as your team or individual students head to competition, so we can give them the recognition they are earning.
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