The trophy will stay in storage, and there will be a blank left in the record book.

A year unlike any other in the Clarence Cannon Conference will stay that way for eternity.

Because of a decision made by the league’s athletic directors before the fall seasons began, Friday night’s undefeated showdown between the Palmyra and Centralia football teams won’t be considered the CCC championship tilt. Those eight ADs, with support from their superintendents, decided if the coronavirus pandemic forced teams to cancel games and leave an unbalanced schedule there would be no league champion crowned.

So despite their on-field success and the fact both teams are two games clear of anyone else in the CCC in the loss column, neither Palmyra nor Centralia will be considered the champion no matter who wins.

They can celebrate as champions. They just don’t get the trophy.

While it makes sense to have placed such a caveat on the season before the first kickoff went into the air, it doesn’t make sense now.

Palmyra, ranked No. 1 in Class 2, and Centralia, ranked No. 5 in Class 3, are both 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the CCC. Both had two conference games canceled because of COVID-19 quarantines by their opponents, yet they’ve beaten the same three teams — Monroe City, Clark County and Brookfield — genuinely considered to be the others in the title chase.

The only team with a .500 or better record to face only one of the top top teams was Highland, which is 3-3 with a 47-6 loss to Palmyra and all three of its losses in CCC play. Could the Cougars potentially have upset Centralia? Sure, but based on all other results, it’s highly unlikely.

These two teams have earned the right to play for a championship. Isn’t that what every athlete wants?

You can talk about the love of the game, the inspiration of competition and the thrill of victory, but you play an entire season to win a championship. That’s the goal. Always has been, always will be.

Circumstances beyond the control of the players and the coaches have dictated neither team can achieve that goal Friday night. At a time when so much is being taken away and the fight for normalcy and opportunity is widespread, why deny either team a championship? Celebrate it. Embrace it. Remind everyone it’s possible to navigate turbulent times and still come out on top.

Putting the CCC title on the shelf doesn’t change the magnitude of this game.

It will have a playoff atmosphere with playoff intensity. District playoffs begin in one week, and this game will tell Palmyra and Centralia how prepared they are for what lies ahead. Winning games like this are what separates the state title contenders from the also-rans. There is plenty to be gained just by playing the game, but more can be gained by playing a game when the stakes are raised.

The CCC leadership might not formally consider it such, but the stakes are high.

The only team still undefeated at the end of Friday night can call itself a champion.

There will be no trophy and nothing to denote it in the CCC record book, but in the years to come, when they gather for reunions or to watch their sons play, the players will know who won, how they won and why they won.

They will be remembered as the champions without a championship.

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