By Jeff Harrison
Student-athletes and coaches in Noble County are back to the grind, and they couldn’t be happier.
After two and a half months without sports due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, athletes around the state including those at Shenandoah and Caldwell have been able to return to some sense of “normalcy” and get back to work.
Sure, some adjustments have had to be made due to “social distancing” and sanitizing requirements, but it’s still a chance to get in shape, interact with coaches and teammates and – hopefully – starting playing for real in August.
At Shenandoah, the first day back was last Monday (June 1), and nearly 130 student-athletes in grades 7-12 turned out ready to go.
“We are certainly going through a challenging time, and we are ready to provide opportunities to get in physical shape and prepare for our upcoming sports seasons,” said Shenandoah Athletic Director Eric Sholtis. “I would like to stress that our plan is not set in stone and we will make any modifications needed to better prepare the athletes, but most importantly to keep them safe.
“We are going to prepare for return to play in three phases as recommended by the OHSAA and government health officials,” he continued. “Each phase will be 14 days as long as there is not an increased number of COVID-19 cases.”
Phase 1 (June 1-14) will see the athletes on the SHS campus on Mondays and Thursday from 6-8 p.m. under the following guidelines:
1) student-athletes will sign in to work out and notify coaches if any symptoms have been observed (persistent cough, difficulty breathing, fever). If a student is having these symptoms, they will not be allowed to participate and will be encouraged to immediately see a healthcare professional.
2) The locker room will not be available. Students should arrive dressed and ready to work out…wait in their vehicle until directions are provided to ensure safe social distancing of the groups.
3) Wash their hands or use hand sanitizer when they arrive and before they leave.
4) Everyone in attendance must maintain six feet distancing at all times.
5) No shared equipment and all equipment must be sanitized after use before another student can use the equipment.
6) Bring water; no shared water bottles or fountains.
Dates and times for Phase 2 (June 15-28) and Phase 3 (June 29-beyond) will be announced later.
Physical exams are still required and should be completed as soon as possible, but no later than August 1. If all paperwork is not completed, students can not practice or play.
“This is truly an unprecedented time,” said Sholtis, “and we want everyone to understand that our highest priority is the health and safety of every member of our community.
“We ask that everyone follows all of the guidelines, and if you have any questions, please ask,” he said. “Be safe and work hard, and as always, Go Zeps!”
For Coach Jesse Wells, having the athletes back on the SHS campus and working out together was a welcome sight.
“We strive to create opportunities for our kids and in our case, the school is truly the hub of activity for them,” he said.
“As an athletic program, we’ve always lifted and worked out together not separating by sports or even grade level played part in our recent jump in success,” Wells continued. “We’ve done some things we’ve never done here before in athletics and we attribute that 100 percent to what we’re doing with conditioning and preparation.
“I think I can speak for all of the coaches when I say we really missed them and I know they missed each other, so we’re glad to get back to it,” he added.
At Caldwell, the scene was much the same as the rival school “up north.”
“Our coaches and athletes started skill work and lifting programs on June 1st, which was the first sense of ‘normalcy’ we’ve seen with sports since early March,” said Caldwell Athletic Director Eli Svercek. “We are limiting the number of athletes and coaches in the gym and weight room to ensure that everyone is safe, and guidelines have been sent out to coaches to communicate safety and best practices for sanitation.
“Our athletes are very excited to get back to their programs and ‘get to work’ to prepare for the upcoming seasons,” he continued. “The coaches are holding meetings, preparing summer schedules, and are already working with athletes in any capacity that they are permitted.
“Our athletes have a ton of motivation right now and the participation rates we are seeing is at its peak,” Svercek noted. “Many of them did individual or at home workouts through the last few months to stay in shape and refine their skills.
“We’ve been back with our kids since last week and getting some workouts in and it was great for the players and coaches,” said Coach Grant Gaydos. “Sometimes you forget just how much fun it is to work hard and be around each other even if it is under the new rules of the state. Our numbers are up this year and we’re all excited to get the 2020 season started.
Both Gaydos and Svercek feel the ‘Skins have adjusted to the current rules well.
“The guidelines are not difficult to follow,” he said, “but they make working out like we used to much more difficult. It just takes extra planning to fit smaller numbers in the weight room.”
“We remain committed that everyone will work together to make this fall as normal as possible for athletes and will continue to listen to local and state guidelines,” said Svercek. “We are hopeful that these guidelines will put the best interest of our athletes first and will come in a timely manner so that we can prepare accordingly.”
Even if there are no huddles, high-fives or in-your-face instruction, one thing’s for sure for the Zeps and Redskins – it’s great to be back to work!