It was strange at times, but the Huntsville Eagles kicked off the 2020 football schedule last Friday against the Lamar Warriors at Eagle Stadium.

The Johnson County visitors won 42-20. Those on hand were required to wear face protection and practice social distancing due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. On the same day as the opening game, Arkansas reported 838 new cases statewide of the virus, including 17 more deaths.

The Eagles Marching Band was able to perform in their bleachers, but did not take to the field at halftime. Referees and coaches had to wear masks. Instead of team captains taking part in the pregame coin toss, head coaches walked to the center of the field for the event.

Strange, indeed.

Schools were allowed to use 66 percent of its seating capacity at last Friday’s games. Every other row in the bleachers were taped off so spectators could social distance. Still, a lot of people appeared to sit in the middle of the stands as is tradition, near the 50-yard line. For the most part, it appeared that the majority of spectators did well in wearing masks. I saw a few people in the stands without face protection, and that’s sad. If you want to give the football team a chance to play, you have a small thing to do. If you don’t want to wear a mask, stay home. It truly is that simple. I saw cheerleaders with masks on and band members who played their instruments with masks. If they can wear protection, so can parents and others who sit in the stands.

Huntsville required advanced tickets to be purchased for the game. Spectators and students picked up tickets at the administration office. The game also was streamed on Facebook Live for those choosing to stay at home. Athletic Director Tom McCollough on Facebook last week said, “Please understand this is very difficult for all of us and your patience is appreciated. You must wear a mask and be 6 feet apart when sitting unless you are in your family group.”

Earlier last week, McCollough shared that the Arkansas Activities Association came close to shutting down high school football before it had a chance to start. The previous week, many schools held benefit scrimmages. Huntsville hosted Green Forest.

“Basically the governor’s committee came really close to pulling the plug on all sports because of non-compliance,” he wrote.

Public address announcer Scott Thomas on Friday reminded those on hand numerous times about the need to wear masks and socially distance from others.

McCollough on Monday said, “Friday night went well. Most people complied with the ADH [health department] directives for social distancing and masks. We still ask that everyone please continue to follow the guidelines that are in place.” McCollough said about 700 people attended Friday’s game.

“This Friday will be senior night and the same number of tickets will be handed out. I know more people like to come to these particular events but we are still under the same attendance restrictions.”

One of the best moments Friday came after the game, when I was interviewing Huntsville coach Matt Williams. I saw Lamar player Trace Caldwell waiting off to the side. When I was finished with the interview, Caldwell approached Williams and said, “You sure have some good boys there, coach.”

That was nice.

• • •

Last year I was able to do a story on Buster Austin, who turned 106 years old with a small party at the Madison County Senior Health and Wellness Center. It saddened me to see Buster’s obituary in last week’s paper. He passed away on Aug. 14 at Countryside Assisted Living. 

What a life. His obituary reminded us that Buster was born in 1912, the same year that the ship Titanic sank. As he told me last year, Buster also saw the first airplane to fly over Madison County when he was at school: at the age of 7!

Buster spent more than 40 years working the apple orchards in Washington State. He told me that at 106, he still liked to mow his own yard and head to McDonald’s every day. His obituary said Buster bailed hay after he turned 100 years old, and flew back to Washington for a visit at 105. He reportedly was the oldest person to ever fly out of the Harrison airport.