St. Paul's cancels game without helmets

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- No helmets. No pads. No game.

Two days before St. Paul's College was supposed to open the 2009 football season, the Tigers canceled Saturday's contest with West Virginia Wesleyan. The reason, West Virginia Wesleyan athletic director Ken Tyler said Friday, was a lack of equipment.

In an instant, the thrill and anticipation of finally playing fell flat.

"I'm flabbergasted and disappointed for our players," Tyler said. "They've been working really hard. They've been peaking and looking forward to kick off the season. It's a real punch in the gut. Beyond that, I feel it was very unprofessional. We would never, ever even consider doing that."

Tyler said St. Paul's AD Leroy Bacote called him with the news Thursday, less than 24 hours before the Wesleyan team was scheduled to travel 341 miles to play the game in South Hill, Va.

Division II St. Paul's had ordered helmets and pads -- but the shipment hadn't arrived yet.

"He couldn't guarantee that they would be there in time," said Tyler, adding that the game would not be rescheduled.

Tyler said he asked Bacote how the team practiced without helmets and pads and was told the players did calisthenics in shorts and T-shirts.

Bacote declined comment Friday when reached at his office.

St. Paul head coach William Bailey was out of his office and unavailable for comment. A recording said callers were unable to leave voice messages.

Tigers assistant coach Kevin Grisby referred questions to Bailey about the equipment issue, but Grisby did say that the team was trying to keep a businesslike approach. St. Paul's is set to play Sept. 5 at UNC-Pembroke.

"From a coaching standpoint, we're preparing our players just like any other day," Grisby said. "We've got to move our troops the best we can right now and that's what we're doing as coaches."

Tyler said the contract signed with St. Paul's includes an undisclosed financial penalty for canceling the game.

"We will be invoking that clause," Tyler said. "Since it was St. Paul's home game, it is their clause."

West Virginia Wesleyan also will seek reimbursement of any expenses. Tyler said the team was being charged for 40 hotel rooms that had been previously booked.

St. Paul's President Robert L. Satcher Sr. didn't immediately return a message left with a secretary.

St. Paul's is a member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. CIAA commissioner Leon Kerry didn't immediately return a telephone message.

Equipment isn't the only issue at St. Paul's, which has an enrollment of less than 1,000.

Bleachers are still being installed at the school's stadium in Lawrenceville, Va., so the West Virginia Wesleyan game was scheduled to be played at a high school in South Hill, about 20 minutes away from campus, said athletics spokeswoman Oralia Washington. St Paul's next home game, Sept. 12 against Webber International, is also scheduled to be played at the high school.

Washington also said she had to make a call halting the shipment of programs for Saturday's now-canceled game.

West Virginia Wesleyan, behind first-year head coach Denny Creehan, will turn its attention to what Tyler called its "new" opener next week at Urbana, Ohio.

"In my nearly 20 years of work in collegiate athletics, I have never experienced anything like this," Tyler said. "I know our coaches and players will make the best of this difficult situation."