PORTSMOUTH — These should be the best of times for football coaches in Scioto County, as the off-season is all about improving their teams for the upcoming campaign.
Instead, it is undoubtedly the worst of times — as they are not able to engage in their normal April activities.
In fact, all off-season on-campus workouts have been shuttered since mid-March — with the outlook for May, June, July and even August when mandatory practice for the 2020 season begins appearing uncertain.
The culprit, of course, is the novel yet lethal threat of the coronavirus —which has, of as Saturday afternoon, resulted in over 100 deaths in Ohio with over 3,700 confirmed cases.
On Thursday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine extended the state’s “Stay-At-Home” order thru Friday, May 1, which coat-tailed his announcement a week ago that the Buckeye State’s schools would continue to be closed thru that same day.
In conjunction with that, the Ohio High School Athletic Association has extended its postponement of the 2020 spring sports season —as announced in a memo to member schools and officially posted on the OHSAA website as of Tuesday night.
The OHSAA is currently in a dead period — which went into effect on March 16 to coincide with DeWine’s original order that ALL Ohio schools, both public and private, be closed effective on that date.
At the time, the no-contact period was set to expire after Sunday (April 5), but in Tuesday’s memo, OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass wrote that the dead period is extended thru May 1 — and that no practices or competitions may occur through that day.
Snodgrass wrote: “This is to assist with the Governor’s ‘Stay-At-Home’ order, to prohibit coaches from privately meeting with student-athletes AND to put all schools on an equal level relative to future competitive opportunities.”
In addition, the memo stated “the No-Contact Regulation was never intended to discourage or prohibit electronic communication with student-athletes. For the mental well-being of student-athletes, it is actually encouraged but is NOT intended for coaches to encourage any form of group gatherings or instruction.”
Given an unnerving past three weeks, and amid numerous reports that the coronavirus pandemic may not peak until the summer, the OHSAA announced in the same memo that it is also turning its divided attention to fall sports.
That’s when, of course, football officially kicks off.
“Again, I feel it is incumbent for our staff to look at every ‘what if’ and be prepared. In a worst-case scenario, if events/practices/training are shut down during or through the summer, the reality exists that many of the thousands of student-athletes may lack any high-level physical training. We need to look at what serves our student-athletes best relative to acclimatization periods,” wrote Snodgrass. “I want to stress that we are PLANNING for worst-case scenarios by identifying all the challenges we could potentially face.”
All of Scioto County’s head football coaches are indeed facing a challenge — how to go about workouts in April and May in preparation for their ramped-up summer schedules.
Most of the spring is relegated to weightlifting — whether it be two, three or four times per week.
Coaches are keeping in contact with their players through electronic means, and the players presumably are following those instructions at home on their own.
“We had an awesome winter workout session, and saw huge gains in the weight-room from January to mid-March. Everything was put on hold then, and we have had to change our thought process on relaying workouts to players. We have all been sharing workout ideas with one another and encouraging teammates both academically and athletically through digital communication,” said veteran Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward. “I know our players will work to be their best through this time away from one another.”
That digital communication includes e-mail, text messaging and as third-year Portsmouth coach Bruce Kalb commented — the audio and video conferencing mechanism called Zoom.
“Certainly with the restrictions, everything has changed. Instead of seeing your kids five or six days a week in the weight room or the gym, you find yourself staying in touch via text or phone call. One thing technology has allowed us to do is continue our Leadership Council meetings online using Zoom. Having these meetings, usually in person, has helped tremendously these past couple of years to develop the culture of our program that we feel will lead us to sustained success. So where a typical off-season would consist of time in the weight room, conditioning, skill work and various types of meetings, how that looks now is drastically different. While some kids may have access to a home gym but most do not, I send out at-home workouts Monday thru Friday and encourage them to report their results to me once they have completed it. Zoom has been useful with maintaining most of those meetings,” said Kalb. “We emphasize a lot that we can’t control the events that happen in our lives, only our responses to them. So while this off-season certainly may not look like any that I have ever been a part of, I feel our team is going to do whatever they can to be as prepared as they can when these restrictions are lifted and we are through all of this.”
Darren Crabtree, who has been the Valley head coach for three decades and doubles as the school’s athletic director, summarized the standstill that the programs are experiencing.
“It has completely shut us down. We usually have weightlifting four days a week, but I think we all are in the same situation waiting for the opportunity to return to a normal routine,” he said. “Trying to figure out a summer schedule right now is difficult.”
That’s when — if it indeed comes to that — the greatest impact of the situation should be felt, according to West head coach and athletic director Ben Johnson.
“Normally, we would be lifting weights and working on speed and agility three days a week for the remainder of the school year. We are permitted to communicate with our players at this time, and I was able to e-mail them an at-home workout they could do that requires minimal equipment,” he said. “At this time, we haven’t lost any actual football time. If this lasts into July, then we will miss out on some camps days. I don’t think it makes much difference with a young team or veteran team. Regardless of the situation, veteran teams will have an advantage.”
Matt Miller of East concurred.
His Tartans, being a Division VII squad, are extremely young — and limited on numbers.
“Right now, our kids should be lifting twice a week. We don’t have too many because of other spring sports, but we’ve normally had five to 15 kids every week counting junior high. What it really will affect is the summer program if we’re unable to get back to school. During June and July, we lift three days per week with the high school and junior high kids. We also get 10 coaching days during the summer where we can do hands-on instruction. That’s including the two 7-on-7 passing camps we usually go to,” said Miller. “Besides working on our strength and conditioning, we would lose valuable instruction time because we are still very young in the program. We may or may not have seniors this year and the most would probably be three. We have a few juniors, but most of our team makeup will be sophomores and freshmen. Being such an underclassmen-heavy team, we need all the time of instruction we can get.”
For Minford head coach Jesse Ruby, he has two sports seasons to worry about, as he is also the track and field head coach at the school.
The Falcon boys, in fact, captured the Division III Southeast District North Division championship last May.
“Normally, we would be having weightlifting four days a week right now, as well as having track practice. However, for both sports, I am following the guidelines set forth by the governor and the OHSAA and have not had any person-to-person contact with student-athletes since our last day of school. For athletes of both sports, I have been in contact with quite a few of them electronically and have provided guidance on what kinds of things they can do from home. I know it has been very difficult for many of our student-athletes who would be normally playing a sport right now or living in the weight-room for fall sports,” said Ruby. “A lot of our football guys participate in spring sports and I know many of them are continuing to stay in shape while they are home in the hopes that they can still play this spring. Hopefully, they get that opportunity, but only time will tell.”
For some programs, such as the young Northwest Mohawks, having those off-season workouts are simply invaluable.
It of course has frustrated coach Bill Crabtree.
“We should be going strong in the weight-room and with track and baseball right now, but instead we are totally shut down. We were working hard and the kids were killing it preparing for the state powerlifting meet. Then boom, it’s all over and everything is shut down. I hate it for the kids. Up until this all happened, we were really growing and improving every day and now it’s like we hit a major roadblock,” he said. “Some of the kids are messaging me that they are still working at home, and I’ve been trying to encourage them to stay positive. However, it’s awful with so much uncertainty.”
But Bob Ashley — veteran head coach of Notre Dame — explained that while his Titans are self-training at this time, his greatest concern, with such small numbers nearing 20 to 25, is the academic aspect.
“Our off-season consists of lifting four days a week. Up to this point, our kids had been coming in to the weight-room before school started on these days. Coach (Bob) Boldman and several other coaches had been making this time slot available so it wouldn’t interfere with other sports. We do split routines with upper body Monday and Thursday and lower body Tuesday and Friday. We do ground-based multi-joint lifts and speed and agility work as our warmup before each lifting session. Since we don’t have access to our weight-room at school now, the players that have their own weights will continue to do the best they can with the workouts we do. We have e-mailed information about various workouts for body-weight only routines for our players,” said Ashley. “We have a good core of older players that have younger players in their groups. All of our coaches have been checking in on these guys trying to make sure they are at least maintaining the gains they’ve made up to the point when this all started. The big thing is the school work. We need all of our returning players to stay on top of their school assignments, so we don’t have any eligibility issues in the fall.”
Darren Crabtree’s “concern at this point is for our players and their families to stay safe during this time.”
And, God knows that these times are some of the worst to be living in —when they should be some of the best.
“It has definitely put a new perspective on sports and that when we do get to return, how grateful we should be to get the opportunity to be around our teammates and enjoy the times together much more than the wins and losses,” he said.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved