ASHTON, W.Va. — Call it a personal foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. Call it unnecessary roughness. Definitely call it a delay of game. Call it what you will but one thing Hannan High School Football isn’t calling it, after its football helmets were reportedly stolen this summer, is quits.
“The situation has created a little bit of adversity for us to deal with, but these young men are still here working their butts off every day trying to get ready for the season. It would be a shame to take that away from the kids because of someone else’s thoughtless actions,” Kellie Thomas, head football coach for Hannan, said.
Mason County Schools Superintendent Jack Cullen said Hannan Vice Principal Cherry Weikle reported noticing the helmets were gone on July 29. Due to a water leak, the helmets were moved and stored in the shower area of the athletic building where they were stolen. It’s unknown exactly how many helmets were taken but Cullen estimated around 25.
According to separate conversations with Cullen and Mason County Sheriff’s Deputy Kendall Roush, also the school’s resource officer (SRO), security footage at the school shows a side-by-side utility vehicle pull up to the athletic building, with two individuals exiting. Due to the poor lighting conditions because of the darkness, it remains unclear whether the individuals are male or female. They disappear from view and return carrying boxes believed to be the reconditioned helmets into the vehicle.
“We don’t know how they got in,” Cullen said.
Roush said it’s policy that the building remain locked at all times, when not in use. There was no sign of forced entry into the building and no damage done to the structure, according to both Roush and Cullen. In addition, Roush said it appears, at least at this point, the helmets were targeted though the motive is unclear. Roush noted nothing else was stolen in the athletic building which also housed a golf cart and weight equipment at the time of the incident. Cullen said according to school officials, an inventory was done and confirmed only the helmets were missing from the scene.
Though Cullen has seen many things in his decades of experience in education and as a coach in high school sports, he said he’d seen “nothing like this” before.
Thomas, a longtime athletic trainer and/or assistant coach with the Hannan football program, took over as head coach for the start of the 2018 football campaign.
“I told the kids on the first day that our helmets were missing. We’ve looked all over the school and the grounds, and they are nowhere to be found,” Thomas said. “The kids were asking, what are we going to do? I told them that if I have to take out a bank loan, I’ll try … just to get something so that we could have a football season. Fortunately, Miss Weikle has been working with the board office and the board members to get a new helmet order approved and ordered. A lot of people have stepped up to get this problem resolved so that we don’t start lagging too far behind. That part is truly appreciated on behalf of our kids.”
According to Cullen, though there is a $2,500 deductible, Mason County Schools has insurance which is paying the estimated $7,000 price tag to replace the helmets. The order consists of 28 helmets through Riddell, though the company is offering two free helmets for a total of 30 and a 10 percent discount which has a delivery rush on the order. Typically, helmets are not cheap, with some costs ranging from $200-$400, if not higher.
Cullen said the new helmets have an arrival date of Aug. 21, a few days prior to the upcoming “GRID-O-RAMA” on Aug. 24 with high school football teams from across Mason County competing in scrimmage action. Hannan should be on the field as planned.
“We, at Mason County Schools, want to keep the (football) program running and make sure the players are safe and get the equipment back to them as quickly as we can,” Cullen said. “We want to make them as prepared (for the upcoming season) as we possibly can. We have athletes out there who are academically eligible and want to participate (in football) and they want to play games for Hannan. It’s a big source of pride for that community and we want to get them back as soon as we can.”
Despite the setback, practices and conditioning continue for Hannan football players and their coaches, minus the “hitting” and contact required in football, for now.
“The toughest thing about all of this is that for something like this to happen, no matter what school or what sport – it’s the kids that suffer because of it,” Thomas said. “It doesn’t hurt me personally or our staff here at Hannan, but it falls squarely on impacting the kids. Even without helmets, these boys have been here every day working hard because they are looking forward to playing football this year.
Like Cullen, Thomas was at a loss as to the purpose of this particular action.
“Every day for roughly two weeks, I’ve sat and wondered who would do something like this? Even last year, with everyone wanting to focus on me being the first female head football coach in West Virginia — I always tried to turn the spotlight back on the kids. This game is all about them and less about me or anyone else,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the support of Mason County Schools literally “gave us our football season back…and we are truly appreciative of them stepping up for our kids.”
Cullen added the school is already taking added security measures to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Roush said this incident remains under investigation.
Hannan is also getting new football uniforms this fall, but that was already in the works before the helmets disappeared. Hannan went 0-9 last fall under Thomas in her first season. The Wildcats have dropped 14 consecutive decisions, dating back to a 41-8 home victory over Jenkins (KY) back on Sept. 29, 2017. Hannan opens the season Aug. 31 at Parkersburg Catholic and will be fully dressed, helmets and all, prepared to play.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing. Bryan Walters is sports editor for Ohio Valley Publishing.