Welcome to the … ICU? Taking a page from the Marvel Cinematic Universe the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Indiana Department of Education began Phase I of its three-phase re-entry guide amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
To be fair, the IHSAA is in near-lockstep with high school athletic associations across the country that have or will begin to phase in summer workouts in anticipation of school opening in the fall.
Restrictions are plentiful — Phase I has 35 different bullet points to adhere to — but for the most part, Monday saw all four White County schools begin summer workouts.
Each school has come out with its own schedule — Tri-County’s workouts are not sport specific initially, according to a memo from athletic director Jeff LeBeau, while North White and Twin Lakes’ workout sessions are broken down by sport.
Student athletes have just 15 hours per week between now and July 18 to participate in team-wide conditioning and sport-specific activities, with the split at nine for conditioning and six for specific activity.
For example, Twin Lakes’ first football workout Monday was just conditioning for two hours, and Tri-County head coach football Mark Gretencord noted Wednesday all his team is doing until July 20 is conditioning.
Part of that is because the Cavaliers’ workouts are open to all athletes, and part of it is, well, “I can see that some kids have been working out, and some kids haven’t,” Gretencord joked.
“There is definitely a difference in the type of conditioning some kids are in,” he added.
On Monday at Twin Lakes, the football program was broken into three position-related groups. All the coaches on the field wore masks, which is a part of the program.
Boy’s tennis players used one of their twice-a-week activity days to do drills, and a literal handful of softball players stretched and took loose cuts for a little over an hour as head coach David McFadden noted a few girls were missing because of AAU tournaments and a couple were on vacation.
“It was a good effort, a good practice,” new Twin Lakes head coach Kevin Sayler said. “I thought the excitement and effort was there. Just for being the first day and kids not doing anything for a while, I felt like we got maximum effort from everyone, which was nice to see.
“For the restrictions we had, and having to be in smaller groups, I felt like it went as smooth as it could have.”
Between Monday and July 19, all activities are voluntary. But athletes, coaches and administrators across the board expressed elation with workouts beginning again.
“We’ve had great turnout, and the kids are excited to be back,” Frontier athletic director and head football coach Troy Burgess said. “It was just great to get back to some semblance of normalcy. People want to get back to that.”
“Normalcy” will exist on the field, for the most part. If athletes wish to wear masks during workouts and conditioning, they are allowed to. There was little evidence of that this week. Based on the current heat index and the need to breathe while participating in conditioning or sports-related activities, it makes some sense. Whether that changes is anyone’s guess, which pretty much summarizes life without a coronavirus vaccination.
Outside the Twin Lakes’ football and softball fields, hand sanitizer was prevalent. The locker rooms were locked away (for now). Hand-washing breaks are recommended and built in to the various two-hour sessions, and temperature checks are expected before each conditioning or workout session.
Phase II begins July 20, and there are a handful of discernable differences. The phrase “all summer activities are voluntary” is not a bullet point, and locker room/meeting room usage is recommended at 50 percent or less.
Full contact is allowed as defined by the IHSAA, which coincides with the beginning of practice for girls golf (July 31) and other fall sports (Aug. 3). Phase III begins Aug. 15, and there is more detailed minutiae regarding scheduling, hospitality, cleaning processes, etc.
“We have already made a few changes in our fall event schedule because of the IHSAA phases for re-entry to sports. We cancelled our volleyball scrimmage and moved our football scrimmage date as well,” North White Athletic Director Mark Woodcock said. “I plan on meeting with my coaches at the end of Phase I and see if any adjustments need to be made, so we can continue with practices and events this fall.
“Changes are difficult to adjust and enforce, but we must work together to help with the health and safety of everyone involved so sports can continue.”
Most every other coach reiterated that notion — adjustment is key, like it is in sports itself. It was necessary for Zoom meetings and videoconferencing, for text messages and phone calls, for most interaction. Coaching staffs have held meetings, and coaches have held weekly meetings to touch base with athletes. Most encouraged individual conditioning or weightlifting, if they could.
Gretencord noted one of his athletes works for a tree removal company, and implemented that as a form of weightlifting. Like many others, he took Monday as a sign of joy.
“It was kind of like Christmas,” the coach said. “You’re excited because you haven’t had the exposure with kids in a long time. But you’re still cautiously optimistic things will continue to progress.”