While the return of prep football may not be officially listed on the state or federal calendar of holidays, you can be guaranteed the first kickoff is marked or circled in most households of the mountainous region of Virginia.
After waiting through offseason drills and conditioning, spring and summer 7-on-7 practices and contests, preseason scrimmages, jamborees and benefit games, fans are ready for the pad-popping, eye-opening play that is high school football in Southwest Virginia.
Two games tee it up Thursday night. J.I. Burton travels down U.S. 23 for a short trip to Bullitt Park in Big Stone Gap to take on the powerhouse Union Bears. The night’s other game features a Southwest District contest with Virginia High traveling from Bristol to Tazewell.
Plenty of exciting games kick off things on Friday with Eastside traveling to Wise Central for a Wise County battle. Washington County pride is also on the line with Abingdon traveling to John Battle in a Mountain 7 District contest.
Among other games, Gate City is at home against Richlands, Lee High goes to Tennessee High, Hurley is at Rye Cove and Northwood travels to Twin Springs.
Anticipation is high for all programs.
VOLLEYBALL STARTING STRONG
Football is not the only high school sport where anticipation is high.
Several volleyball programs started the season this week with hopes of advancing into the postseason in late October and November.
The talent-rich Mountain 7 District with Union, Gate City, Abingdon, Lee High and John Battle, as well as Wise Central and Ridgeview, will be a fight to the finish.
In the Class 1 Cumberland District, Eastside and Rye Cove will likely be the front-runners again. But several others are vying to play the role of spoiler.
GRAND BASKETBALL TOURNEY FIELD SET
The largest holiday high school basketball tournament in far Southwest Virginia is set with a 12-team field.
The Grand Home Furnishings Holiday Classic presented by WDIC Radio is scheduled to tip off Wednesday, Dec. 26 at the Virginia-Wise Prior Center.
The tournament will run four days capped by the championship on Saturday, Dec. 29.
Defending champion Union will not be in the tournament because of other schedule obligations. But the field will include J.I. Burton, last year’s tournament runner-up.
The Holiday Classic will include one Kentucky school, Berea, and 10 other teams from Southwest Virginia: Eastside, Rye Cove, Wise Central, Ridgeview, Northwood, Virginia High, Chilhowie, Lebanon, Richlands and Honaker.
Rye Cove and Northwood will tip off the action at 4 p.m. on Dec. 26, followed by three other games that day.
The quarterfinals will be played Dec. 27, with the winners of the previous day’s contests playing the four teams that received opening-round byes: Berea, Richlands, Burton and Honaker. Losers’ bracket games will be held Dec. 28 and 29, the semifinals on Dec. 28 as well.
LOCAL COLLEGE TEAMS PICKED LOW IN CONFERENCES
The Old Dominion Athletic Conference and Mountain East Conference have not shown much faith in Emory & Henry football nor Virginia-Wise volleyball.
The ODAC football projections released Monday picked E&H to finish seventh in the eight-team conference.
Washington and Lee was picked to finish first in the ODAC. Randolph-Macon, Hampden-Sydney and Ferrum all received first-place votes in the coaches’ poll.
In the MEC volleyball poll, also released Monday, Virginia-Wise was picked by MEC coaches to finish 11th in the 12-team conference.
National power Wheeling Jesuit was the prohibitive favorite to repeat as champion of the NCAA Division II conference.