PORTSMOUTH — Eddie Cochran — that’s an oldie name for you youngsters — once sang Summertime Blues.
Fortunately for football teams in Scioto County, they aren’t experiencing those after all — even though the coronavirus threat still of course exists.
That’s because, despite the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s official social distancing guidelines as part of its reopening for football, teams are back on the field for summer workouts — in preparation for what is anticipated, and certainly hoped for, a 2020 season.
At least that’s the full-steam ahead plan for Scioto County clubs, including Portsmouth High and Notre Dame high schools — just two of the nine county high school programs.
After essentially quarantined from teammates for two-and-a-half months while working out on their own, the Trojans and Titans are among those squads which — as of June 1 — have returned to the field to team activities.
Needless to say, but it’s a nice, welcome-back change for players and coaches alike.
“It’s a challenge, because we are all used to practicing together as a team on schedule on the first day of June. It’s different, but I think we are all getting more used to it as the weeks go on with lifting and all the stuff we’re doing. I think we’re all just happy to actually come back and practice and do something after being quarantined like that,” said Notre Dame senior Caleb Nichols. “Hopefully, football season can continue, even with social distancing, and we all get to play.”
“As we say as coaches, one is better than nothing. Our kids are lifting, our kids are conditioning, we try to do as much skill-work on the football field as we can within the parameters of what we’re allowed to do. We’re making of it what we can,” said Portsmouth head coach Bruce Kalb. “Our attendance has been fantastic. I think like everyone else, these kids have been ‘cooped up’ for so long they want to get out of the house and have something to do. It’s been challenging, and there are a lot of boxes to check as we go through this, but I’m around my kids, including developing relationships all the way down to my junior-high players, and just being back here around each other elevates all of our moods.”
“It’s been very tough. But with everything opening back up now, at least a little bit, as a coach it’s exciting to actually be back with the kids and working with them again,” said Notre Dame assistant coach and athletic director Bob Boldman. “It’s quite different and very challenging, but I’m glad that we got to come back here in June and get started.”
Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted, last month, announced that the state and the OHSAA have agreed to allow —started on Tuesday, May 26 —ALL student-athletes to begin individual skills training at school facilities, BUT at the discretion of individual school districts.
Hence, ALL sports —whether they are classified as “no contact” “low contact” or “full contact” —will once again permit skills training.
Skills training is defined and the mandated and recommended restrictions are posted at https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/static/responsible/Skills-Training-All%20Sports.pdf —as the six feet of social distancing rule applies to all players, coaches and parents.
So too does working in groups of 10 men or fewer, as temperature checks and health screenings are conducted for each player prior to each session.
“They have to stay in groups of nine, and they were assigned a group on the first day. So if something happens in that group, it can be tracked and only that group would have to be quarantined,” said Boldman, who also handles the Titans’ strength and conditioning.
Kalb said his Trojans try to work eight individuals apiece in the PHS fitness center, the weight room, and on the actual Trojan Coliseum surface.
“With groups of nine, it’s getting kids to know what their group is, when they are supposed to be here, what happens if they show up early, what happens if they show up late. Those groups are supposed to be static groups,” he said.
Notre Dame, with an estimated 30 players showing up for workouts, has split itself into three groups — rotating its days per week with lifting, outdoor drills and indoor classroom work.
But weights must be cleaned and sanitized between each use by players, and each desk inside a classroom must be at least six feet apart.
Locker-rooms are, for all schools and their facilities, off limits — as are high-fives, handshakes, huddles and hugs.
“They are used to being a big group together, high-fiving and hanging out in the locker-room. Right now, nobody is even allowed in the locker-room. They come in right now in different groups and different times. And of course after everything you have to clean now, including if you have them sitting in a classroom. We had to take desks out, make sure the desks are further than six feet (apart), and they wear masks. We do our ladder drill outside now, so we can social distance more,” said Boldman. “It’s challenging for these kids, but we’re proud of all of them, and I’m sure schools all around are developing to this standard.”
They are, and they must.
The OHSAA — in following up from Friday’s May 22 memo to member schools — issued guidance to those member schools which are strongly suggested to be followed in three “phases”.
The memo states that “every school/program should start at Phase One of this program and remain there for at least 14 calendar days. If there is a downward/flat trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period, a school may progress to Phase Two, where a new 14-day period of tracking of cases should begin. If there is another 14-day downward/flat trajectory of cases, schools may progress to Phase Three.”
The list of guidelines for all three phases can be found at https://ohsaaweb.blob.core.windows.net/files/SchoolResources/OHSAAGuidance2020.pdf — and cloth face coverings should be considered acceptable in all phases.
“The weirdest part is just trying to get used to everything right now, but we’re starting to grasp it,” said NDHS senior Ethan Kammer. “It’s just very different, and the cleaning of everything in between is tedious.”
“There are regulations of shared equipment, especially with weights. If we use a football, we have one football per group and it gets sanitized. There’s no use of the locker-room right now and only one designated restroom we can use,” said Kalb. “So it is challenging.”
As for how long this will last?
At least until mid-July for the “phases” timeline, as teams are NOT permitted to partake in any kind of traditional camp or say 7-on-7 passing scrimmages.
In that same May 22 memo, the OHSAA stated that “competitions of any kind” are prohibited “and there has been no date set for when competitions in these sports may begin.”
“I think this will be going on for a while, but once they (OHSAA) finally start figuring out what we can do for contact, that’s when things will start picking back up,” said Kammer.
But for now, if players want to regain that complete long-term sense of team camaraderie, they must adhere to the novel — and hopefully short-term —individual rules and regulations.
“It’s different but it’s not, if that makes sense. We’re doing the same stuff, but we’re just more careful about being close to each other. You can’t be in a full team environment, and it’s different that you can’t have the interaction with your teammates and friends. We try to split up into groups with the seniors explaining to the younger guys what to do. But staying away from everyone has been the hardest part,” said Notre Dame senior Logan Emnett. “Everyone is so used to being real close to each other and at first, no one would follow the rules of social distancing. Now that we’re getting down to the grind, it’s working good now.”
Come the dog days of August, though, is anybody’s guess.
“What this is going to look like come August 1, we don’t know. We’re all anxiously awaiting to hear something from the OHSAA, and see what the plan is,” said Boldman. “Hopefully, in the fall, we’re going to have football.”
But at least now players and coaches shouldn’t be suffering symptoms of summertime blues.
“Right now, there’s hope. There’s hope that we’re going to actually have a return to something that looks like normal,” said Kalb. “We had a staff meeting when we first kicked this off. We said we can sit here and complain about the rules and be discouraged and say it’s too restrictive. Or we can say these are the rules, let’s get clarification on what the rules are, let’s ask the questions to the people we need to ask them to, and then let’s make the best of it. We have so many moving parts to this with how we’ve set it up, we need all hands on deck. For the most part, this has been a positive experience. I think we’ll come out better because of this, believe it or not.”
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