As lightning holdups go, Dave Adams thought the timing couldn’t have been much better for his wearying Hilton Head Prep squad.
The Dolphins trailed Orangeburg Prep by eight early in the final quarter, and Friday night’s impromptu break held the potential to turn the tables.
“It stopped (Orangeburg Prep’s) momentum,” Adams said. “It gave us a chance to rest. Hydrate them a little bit, motivate the kids and come back out and take advantage.”
“It sounds good in word,” he added, “but not in practicality.”
After 45 minutes of cooling their heels, the Dolphins couldn’t get their bodies to respond.
“I could see it in their faces,” Adams said. “They had a hard time getting up and moving.”
Prep gave up a late touchdown in a 29-14 defeat. More fodder to the notion that little good comes out of a storm delay.
“It’s just something you have to deal with,” said Ridgeland-Hardeeville coach Jahmaal Nelson, whose opener against Thomas Heyward was cut short by lightning on Ridgeland’s outskirts.
Bluffton, too, had a lightning delay in Georgia that pushed kickoff at the Erk Russell Classic back 45 minutes. The second game of that doubleheader, featuring Fort Dorchester, didn’t start until almost 10 p.m.
That’s still better than Friday’s muddle in Columbia, where nearly a dozen games were pushed to Saturday morning by storms.
“As much as you try to put a positive spin on it,” Adams said, “it’s just not good.”
Call it an unavoidable nuisance of living and playing in the South. August — and often September — brings that mix of heat and humidity that causes storms to brew in the afternoon. It’s bad enough when practices have to be moved inside or cut short, but games bring those extra layers.
Stadiums must be cleared. Visiting teams must have a place to go (or sometimes not). And coaches must figure out how to best utilize the time during a break that will last at least twice as long as halftime.
“It’s a total mental game,” Beaufort Academy coach Scott Richards said. “These kids are 15, 16, 17 years old. Just trying to get that motor cranked back up, that would be a nightmare. At some point, you can only talk so much.”
The first objective, coaches said, is to get players off their feet and fluids in their system. The conditions that create thunderstorms in the first place also cause fluid loss that leads to cramping.
Next typically is breaking into position groups and making adjustments, using the break as an extra halftime. And then ...
“It’s tough for a coach,” said John Paul II’s Kevin Wald. “It’s a matter of keeping them honed in and focused as best you can. That’s easier said than done.”
Especially as minutes turn to hours. South Carolina, as do other Southern states, mandates 30 minutes pass without lightning in the area before teams can go back out. Every time another strike is detected, the clock resets.
Wald recalled one road trip from his Hilton Head Prep days when the Dolphins had to wait out a two-hour delay on the team bus.
“You can’t move, you can’t get off. It’s popping lighting all around,” he recalled. “You get edgy, the kids get fidgety. Mostly the kids listened to their headphones. We’ve got cheerleaders on there, too. There’s just nothing you can do in that situation.”
Adams, who returned to coaching this year after stepping down as Bluffton’s athletics director, recalled a 2007 game against Woodland that was delayed at the start, held up again midway through the first quarter — and didn’t resume until almost midnight.
“Delayed, delayed, delayed,” Adams said. To push the game into Saturday would have required Woodland to drive home and drive back down the next day. Then there would have been the challenge of finding new game officials and other support personnel.
“The officials said, ‘We’ll wait as long as we need to wait.’ Their coach wanted to wait as long as it took. So we waited it out.”
And when play finally resumed, Woodland threw a 56-yard touchdown pass on the very first snap.
“Just like lightning struck again,” Adams recalled. “He just sent the receiver straight downfield and threw it up there. You’re just trying to get back into a rhythm, but he was smart enough to go for it. And it worked.”
Nelson also can cite a time when a delay worked in his team’s favor. Before the Jaguars’ season finale two years ago, he worried his players had gotten too pumped up to take on Edisto. Then the lightning meter intervened.
“If we didn’t have that 30-minute period, we may not have regained our composure,” Nelson said. “Instead, we came out and returned the opening kickoff (for a TD). That set the tone for the rest of the game.”
More often than not, though, how teams respond is a crapshoot.
“I think we’d all like it so when the game gets started, we finish it to the end,” Nelson said. “But you want to make sure everybody’s safe. There are just some things you have to do.”