KEYSER - The announcement Monday by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (WVSSAC) that high school bands would not be allowed to perform at football games this year touched off a storm of controversy and prompted the Governor to step in and seek an immediate reversal of the decision.

By Liz Beavers
lbeavers@newstribune.info
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - The announcement Monday by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (WVSSAC) that high school bands would not be allowed to perform at football games this year touched off a storm of controversy and prompted the Governor to step in and seek an immediate reversal of the decision.
On Tuesday, the decision was indeed reversed … although the student musicians will be performing under strict safety guidelines in view of the ongoing pandemic.
According to the Associated Press, Gov. Jim Justice said the WVSSAC’s decision was made Monday without his input.
"As a coach and someone who is in our schools all the time, I appreciate how much our extracurricular activities, including our marching bands, mean to our students, parents, and communities," Justice said in a statement.
Justice said he directed medical experts to work with the SSAC and the state Department of Education to "go back to the drawing board to find a safe way for our marching bands to do what they love to do: perform."
The initial WVSSAC decision on Monday came as a shock to members of Mineral County’s two high school bands, who have been getting ready for the season under the difficult conditions placed upon them by COVID safety standards.
“So much of the summer has been filled with uncertainty and practice cancellations,” Keyser High band director J. Suzanne Warrick told the News Tribune.  
“We have followed all state recommended social distancing and virus mitigation efforts carefully.  We have kept our communication going through virtual interactions and have provided online resources to our students.  It’s been difficult to maintain consistency to develop our musical program, but the students and staff have maintained positive attitudes.”
According to Franfort band director Roger Walker, the Falcon musicians have also been diligent in keeping safety recommendations while practicing for the upcoming season.
“Since early June, the Frankfort High School Band rehearsed in small groups (or pods) of ten students,” he said.  “The band continued working in small groups throughout July in preparation for band camp.  Unfortunately, all band camps in the state were canceled. The cancelation, followed by a two-week countywide suspension of all activities, made putting together a field show problematic,” he said.
“Upon learning of Governor Justice's decision to allow marching bands to perform at upcoming football games, the FHS Band had its first full drill rehearsal on Wednesday. The kids and families of our band have been great with handling the myriad of changes we have faced since March," Walker said.
According to the WVSSAC regulations released Tuesday, “middle and high school marching bands will be allowed to attend and perform pre-game (National Anthem) and half-time shows at home football games.”
The bands must be seated in a separate area from the bleachers, however, with another separate area set aside for band parents and families. It is recommended students each be given a 6x6 spot, with 9x6 designated for trombone players.
Only the percussion section will be permitted to play during the game.
Face coverings must be worn by all band members when not performing, and those who are able to do so, such as guard members, should wear masks even when they are performing.
Band members and their families will be asked to enter and leave the football field separately from the athletes and their families whenever possible.
Warrick said the reversal was good news for the student musicians.
“Our competitions have been cancelled this year, so I know the students are excited to participate on Friday nights. We are looking forward to showing our school spirit, supporting the football team, and enhancing the experience for the parents in the stands,” she said.
Walker said he has already taken steps to comply with the regulations.
Instrument covers have been ordered for all of the band's brass and woodwind instruments. The covers, along with distancing both on and off the field, will be major preventative measures to keep the students and staff safe.  
"We are very thankful that Governor Justice granted marching bands permission to perform this season.  He has always been a great patron of the arts in our state, and this situation was no exception,” he said.