The pandemic forced Ottawa High School to revamp its summer weight and conditioning program.


The athletes returned to workouts Monday after a three-month break from organized school activities.


The new program features three stations: stretching and yoga, weights and agility. It takes about an hour and 45 minutes to complete the process each day.


A big difference is all the athletes are grouped together instead of separated by sport. The coaches lead them through the conditioning program.


The athletes are split into several time periods throughout the morning, with no more than 26 per group.


The athletes and coaches like the new program.


"This is really organized as far as the atmosphere," OHS baseball coach Shawn Herrmann said. "It is really cool to see all the athletes."


Senior basketball player Tucker Baldwin said the new program builds school pride.


"I like seeing everybody, working together helping people with their strengths and weaknesses," he said. "I was a little worried in not knowing how it would go. It brings morale up. It has been interesting. There are so many sports and skill sets working together as one."


OHS boys basketball coach Cliff McCullough sees an increased enthusiasm as 180 athletes are participating.


"In my 23 years here, I have never seen this many kids participate in summer weights and conditioning," he said. "Part of that might be they are tired of being cooped up and at home and wanted something to do. I like to think it is our kids want to commit to getting better. I hope our kids are starting to be accountable for themselves, each other and what they want to do and their abilities to get better. The numbers we have are amazing for us."


McCullough said this format has many benefits, but the top one is the change in attitude.


"What we are doing is benefiting a lot of kids," McCullough said. "The last time I have seen my basketball kids was on our way back from the state tournament. It is so refreshing to see their faces and be in the same place as they are. It is good for all of us to get back to some sense of normalcy. Nobody has experienced what we just went through. Mentally, it was taxing on all of us."


The athletes are exposed to different workouts to strengthen their muscles but also get to work with coaches from other sports.


"What’s really good for coaches and kids is having our basketball players coached by our track coach, baseball coach, soccer coach and football coaches," McCullough said. "They have never been around them. It is important for our coaches to see those kids they don’t see."


The weight room is manned by football coach Rob Hedrick, wrestling coach Dalton Weidl and volleyball coach Laura Jeannin. The stretching portion is led by soccer coach Roland Jaworski, Herrmann and track coach Aaron Miller. The agility session is led by McCullough and Spencer Feldkamp.


"Coach Wiedl in the weight room has brought energy to the whole high school," Herrmann said. "He is working the kids in different ways. Coach Jaworski and coach Miller are young coaches coming in and giving energy. It is huge for the program."


McCullough said there is a different feel among the participants.


"Even when we had kids work out (before), I don’t know if we spent that much time in weight room and agilities," he said. "Every group is getting one hour and 45 minutes of some kind of training, which I think is awesome. Especially for 180 kids. It should do amazing things for our program."


Herrmann said workouts separated out by sport are good in one sense, but this brings a lot more team work as a school.


"It shows how all the sports tie together," he said. "If you are just a one-sport athlete, it shows you can do other sports and should be doing other sports. It shows dedication from the kids to show up at 6 a.m. I have only seen a handful of kids not giving max effort. There are a lot of kids saying a lot of positive things about it. If it was just weights, half the people would not be here."


McCullough said working together as one has brought coaches and athletes closer together.


"We found a way to do things better," he said. "It is building a great culture around the school, which what we have been trying to do for years now. This is driving that cultural change. It is funny how we were forced into this. If there ever was a silver lining, that’s it. We are all doing it together. We are making each other better doing it this way."


The coaches understand how vital off-season workouts are to improve with Ottawa competing in the rugged Frontier League.


"It has to be the toughest 4A football league in the state," McCullough said. "We had to get an edge. You can’t sit here and wait until mid-July to get our kids in the weight room when the Paolas, Louisburgs and Spring Hills are in working right now. Our basketball league is up and down. Girls (sports), you have to compete. It is all sports. You have to get that edge. Our league is so competitive. You don’t want to lose to a league school.


"We have to do something different. We have to change the culture. We have to get kids in the weight room."