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By Sonny Jones

A mere 133 days after East Bladen beat West Bladen 58-14 at the Castle to end the COVID-19-delayed and shortened high school football season, the teams are scheduled to open a new season.

We hope. We pray.

Assuming COVID-19 — or its Delta variant or some other variant — doesn’t interfere, on Aug. 20 East Bladen will host Wallace-Rose Hill at Lenon Fisher Stadium and West Bladen will play at South Columbus in nonconference games.

The Purnell Swett and Lumberton teams are in quarantine for 14 days after a player from each team tested positive for COVID-19, The Robesonian’s Chris Stiles reported Thursday. That means that East Bladen’s scheduled Wednesday scrimmage against the Rams has been canceled and the Eagles now will scrimmage Heide Trask in the Carolinas Jamboree in Lumberton. It also means Swett’s game against St. Pauls and Lumberton’s game against Fairmont scheduled Aug. 20 have been postponed.

The N.C. High School Athletic Association’s realignment put the Eagles and Knights in the Southeastern 2-A Conference with holdovers Fairmont, Red Springs and St. Pauls joined by newcomers Clinton and Midway. Gone from the former Three Rivers 1-A/2-A Conference are the four Columbus County schools — Whiteville, South Columbus, West Columbus and East Columbus.

East Bladen and West Bladen traditionally have played on the final Friday of the regular season. However, this season, the teams are scheduled to meet at East Bladen on Sept. 17 in the Southeastern 2-A Conference opener. Admittedly it hasn’t been much of a rivalry. West Bladen won the first meeting between the schools in 2001 and hasn’t beaten the Eagles or Cougars since. Still, it seems odd that the Bladen schools aren’t closing the regular season. They should.

East Bladen was the only Three Rivers school to play its full schedule in the spring season and went 5-2. However, the Eagles missed the playoffs for the first time in 21 years mainly because of COVID-19 restrictions. The NCHSAA cut out a round of the playoffs last season. Robby Priest begins his ninth season as head coach. He’s gone 66-29 since taking over for Lenon Fisher, who retired in 2012 after 32 years as head coach.

West Bladen was 0-6 in the spring. The Knights have gone 9-40 in the past five seasons since making the playoffs in 2015. Stanley Williams has replaced Jon Sherman as head coach. Sherman left after two seasons to become head coach at Gray’s Creek in Cumberland County. Williams was West Bladen’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator last season.

In two weeks, East Bladen and West Bladen are scheduled to open a new season that is to be played in the same calendar year as part of a new conference that features some familiar foes.

We hope. We pray. COVID-19, please, stay away.

Sonny Jones can be reached at wibbyj@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @FOSonnyJones.

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