Virus guidelines become norm for school sports

Greg Mast
The Ottawa High School football team works on executing the passing game this past week during the first week of practice.

Area high school coaches and players are attempting to make the COVID-19 guidelines the norm now.

Fall prep sports practices began Monday for Franklin County schools.

Coaches and administrators said the first week went well.

“The athletes are adjusting to these changes, but only because we have been doing this since the beginning of June,” West Franklin volleyball coach Angie Corwine said. “When we started in June, the coaching staff had to constantly remind the girls to stay 6 feet from each other. They still need to be reminded, but they are much more aware of staying distanced from each other.”

Central Heights cross country coach Troy Prosser said they have been following those guidelines all summer.

“We started the summer under more stringent guidelines than were being recommended by the CDC and other state and local health agencies — 3-4 meters of social distancing, cleaning equipment with every single use, even keeping personal items at least 3 meters apart — among many other guidelines and have had good results doing so,” Prosser said. “Because of the prep work and planning the past few months, we were able to hit the ground running ... literally ... with no difficult adjustments.”

Brad Burkdoll, Wellsville athletics/activities director, said the athletes are getting used to the routine of temperature checks, mask wearing and other things in dealing with preventing the spread of the virus.

“I am proud of our staff and attention to detail,” Burkdoll said. “They have been doing the temperature checks and been communicating with their athletes. We are blessed to have a lot of good role models here. I appreciate the hard work of our students and our coaches. We are trying to make the best of it.”

Ottawa High School football team has split squad practices with the freshmen meeting in one group and the upperclassmen in another.

Cyclone football coach Rob Hedrick said they split the players into position groups to stretch and go through various drills.

“Everything we do, we do in individual groups,” he said. “We have really emphasized to the kids, if you want to play, this is what you have to do. It is not a perfect situation.”

Ottawa senior Ethan Janssen said the coaches are doing a good job of keeping everybody social distanced and they are all wearing masks on the practice field.

“All the coaches have put in parameters,” Janssen said. “The biggest thing for us is (maintaining) distance. We are not doing any contact right now.”

Burkdoll said the Wellsville coaches are limiting the size of groups and which groups are around each other.

Corwine said instituting the guidelines adds another level of prep time for the coaches.

“As coaches, we are having to make changes to our daily routine, and it is more time consuming, but the ultimate goal is to keep our players safe and playing,” Corwine said. “The girls wear masks as they enter and leave practice. We practice good hand washing and sanitizing when they are given a drink break. Balls are sanitized after every practice.”

Prosser said coaches take their responsibility of protecting athletes seriously.

“Ultimately, we (coaches) have always known that the health and safety of the kids is the top priority, and it is our responsibility as leaders to take every precaution that we can to make sure the runners and their families do not have to worry about us acting like it is no big deal,” he said.

Hedrick said the athletes also are taking it seriously and making sure to go through the routine of temperature checks, answering COVID-19 screening questions, using hand sanitizer and distancing from each other.

“It is becoming the norm,” he said. “They are used to it and understand what their job is to lessen the effects of that. Kids are pretty resilient and they roll with it. Our coaching staff has done a very good job of setting the tone of preaching about it.”

Janssen said the upperclassmen understand they also need to be leaders and have the right attitude.

“Among the seniors, we are trying to set good examples,” he said. “We are not trying to (make excuses), like this COVID thing sucks. We can’t control that.”

Janssen said success or failure of teams rests in the hands of the athletes.

“Coming to practice being ready, being mentally prepared,” he said. “I know for the younger guys it is a big learning curve, not worrying about things you can’t control.”

Once the seasons begin, things will be different, the coaches said.

“We are still a few weeks out from seeing how and what changes will take place during competitions, but I feel that we have a great group of kids who understand that being flexible, when it comes to changes, will help them adjust more easily than in years past,” Prosser said.

Janssen said they are preparing to overcome a lot of hurdles this season.

“It is being ready for anything,” he said. “Our coach already told us we could learn on Thursday night that we might not play on Friday. Right now, we are doing our best to have a full schedule. Mentally, we have to be prepared.”

Burkdoll said the Pioneer League athletic directors met and have a plan in place to make things go as smoothly as possible this year.

“We are going to help each other out,” Burkdoll said. “There is a lot of communication going on.”

The county athletes and coaches are not taking the opportunity to compete this fall for granted. Many Kansas City-area schools and others across the state have pulled the plug on fall sports.

“We are playing,” Hedrick said. “How many kids don’t get this opportunity right now? It is a blessing every day. When the kids respond like they do, it makes your heart happy.”

Janssen said athletes have a changed attitude because activities could be taken away in an instant.

“This year, we are not taking things for granted,” he said. “It is an amazing opportunity. Every day, come in, go as hard as you can, because it might be the last time you get to.”

Corwine said being on the court together has a different feeling.

“Any time we are on the court together is a blessing because it could all end tomorrow,” she said.

Burkdoll said the athletes are determined to do all the right things.

“A lot of them are nervous right now,” he said. “They have done everything we have asked, working hard and we are trying to make it as normal as possible. Last spring was a shock.”