State, schools work at phasing in practices, workouts
A slice of normalcy has returned for the area’s prep athletes as practices and workouts have been allowed to resume across the state over the past few weeks.
Governor Mike DeWine closed school buildings in the middle of March because of the coronavirus pandemic. The conclusion of winter sports and the entire spring sports season were both eventually canceled by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Student-athletes were not permitted to meet or train on school property until just a few weeks ago.
The rules restricting in-person practices and conditioning for six low to no-contact sports were first lifted on May 26, just over two months after the initial shutdown.
With guidelines from the state, the National Federation of State High Schools Association and the OHSAA, all sports have now gradually been phased back into action across Ohio.
“I think after two months of being cooped up they are ready to get out and do anything,” said Bellefontaine athletic director Matt Comstock of BHS athletes. “They are happy to have organization again and a place to go. I think we laid things out pretty well and are pretty much as safe as you can be. I think the number of kids we’ve had show they are excited. The numbers have been high.”
This past Monday, all full-contact sports were allowed to resume along with scrimmages and full-training schedules as long as safety protocols are observed. A Logan County prep baseball summer league also started up recently.
The athletic directors from Bellefontaine, Benjamin Logan, Indian Lake and Riverside have worked together with the Logan County Health Department to use the same procedures and practices while getting their teams back on the field. West Liberty-Salem and Triad took the same approach with the Champaign County Health Department.
“As a county, we have all corresponded a lot to try and keep everything we do very similar,” said Ben Logan athletic director Scott Reule. “It can’t be exactly the same because our facilities may be different. A weight room may be bigger or practice field size could vary depending on the school.
“We are three weeks in (at Ben Logan) and I think our coaches, our staff at the school and the athletes have done a great job in following the recommended guidelines. They are doing a great job being prepared, being safe and cleaning. It has been a positive experience and everyone has worked well together.”
Each school has a tracking sheet for every student given out by the NFHS and the OHSAA. Coaches ask athletes a series of questions each day about their health symptoms. If the athlete answers yes to any of the questions they have to go home. The school follows up with the parents about their child’s health. Athletes are required to bring their own water, and if they don’t, then that athlete must go home. Social distancing of six feet is to be maintained, equipment is cleaned daily and restrooms at each facility are also limited.
The first phase of the reopening plan set a limit on the number of athletes allowed indoors and outdoors at one time. Schools are now into the second phase, which means group numbers can increase. The indoor number is currently 20 and the outdoor number is 50.
The third phase begins after July 4 and that allows for groups of 50 whether it is indoors our outdoors. The same groups are kept together for the duration of the summer and those athletes all use the same equipment throughout the summer to limit the spread of germs. If an athlete tests positive for COVID-19 or comes into contact with someone who is positive, that group is quarantined and not allowed back until they receive a negative test result.
Schools can take different approaches on how to conduct practices or workouts. Most schools are meeting by sport and by team with each coach in charge of what their squads do.
“Initially, I was worried the coaches might battle or make it over the top with the guidelines, but it is what’s necessary right now,” said West Liberty-Salem athletic director Jake Vitt. “To my surprise, they adapted and embraced it. They followed all the expectations given to them and I’ve been real pleased with how they handled it. It’s a lot of extra stuff to worry about on top of your daily routine with things like attendance and discipline.”
Bellefontaine has taken a different route and is organized by gender. All male athletes are working out together four days a week for two hours, using five or six different stations created by the coaches. The female athletes meet twice a week for one hour with coaches creating a workout plan. Open gyms or other team practices can be held as long as they use the proper safety precautions.
“Our male sports coaches had already talked and created a plan,” said Comstock. “We had a meeting with all coaches and told the female coaches what had been started. They jumped on board with that system. It has been a blessing putting all of our sports teams together at once. The coaches have done a good job of getting things together.”
The largest aspect of this process that has challenged athletic directors is keeping up with the changing guidelines from the state.
“We are trying to make sure we are doing everything correctly and staying on top of the new and changing regulations,” said Reule. “We all want to follow the guidelines and keep our kids safe. Most challenging is we get into a groove and then we get new recommendations or a change. Things have been so structured for a long time and now we are thrown into a situation where we have new regulations and a lot of adapting.”
There is also the unpredictability of the virus itself and how that could affect what schools have done to this point.
“The frustrating part is not knowing the future,” said Vitt. “We’re planning for the fall and everything that is supposed to happen. Within one day the governor could say we are shutting down and no sports. Then we wasted all that effort and planning time. We don’t know what is coming, and when it does you’re given four or five days to adjust. There just isn’t a lot of time positively or negatively.”
To view the complete Responsible Restart Ohio guidelines for sports go to https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/static/responsible/Contact-Sport-Practices-Non-Contact-Sport.pdf