High school sports to return Monday

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Things will be different.

No high-fives, no guzzling down water from the outside water spigot, and masks will be prevalent.

Like much of everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the local sports scene.

But, for the first time since early March, area high school athletes will return to activity starting Monday.

“The days of a soccer player passing a water bottle around to other athletes during injury time are over,” Crawfordsville athletic director Bryce Barton said. 

The days of athletes dreading practice and parents driving them to and from are over as well, as people’s perspectives on things they’ve always taken for granted have changed.

“We have stressed that we are here for our families during this time and that we miss everyone,” Southmont athletic director Aaron Charles said. “No one is alone and whether you’re an athlete, parent, grandparent, or fan, I believe we have all come to appreciate what athletics means to us. The social aspect of athletics is sometimes taken for granted and I do not think that will be the case moving forward.”

The biggest adjustment will be the requirement of a mask and personal water bottle by each athlete. All athletes will also be pre-screened each day upon arriving to their respective workout.

Local athletic departments have collaborated with each other, while working closely with the IHSAA, Sports Medicine Advisory Committee from the National Federation of State High School Associations, the Department of Education, and the physicians from the Franciscan Physicians Network in order to safely re-start local athletics. 

“Our admin team has met many times with various agencies to construct a plan for re-entry,” Fountain Central athletic director Jason Good said. “Social distancing practices and pre-screening are essential components.”

In result, athletic directors have turned to their coaches to help make the transition easier.

“Our athletic department has given us the plan for returning to sports and we had a staff meeting to discuss any issues,” North Montgomery football coach Josh Thompson said. “Our coaches are working together to create a plan that will benefit all of our athletes while creating a safe environment to return.”

The first of three phases begins Monday, and is set to last until Phase 2 begins on Monday, July 20. During the first phase athletes will be limited to 15 hours per week on campus, and each sport is limited to only two days per week. Student athletes are also required to show up to workouts in proper attire.

Locker rooms will not be accessible until at least the second phase, and each school may implement their own guidelines and procedures within the IHSAA and Department of Education’s guidance. 

While many athletes have taken advantage of workout suggestions from their respective coaches, getting back into shape will be a priority during the first few weeks.

“I’m sure there will be some athletes who have not stayed in shape and have not worked out in four months,” Southmont girls soccer coach Phil Keller said. “Coming back, we will address that and move forward with fitness and training to ensure all athletes are in shape for the season.”

North Montgomery girls soccer coach Julie Hodges is confident her players will be ready to go, but will put an emphasis on fitness and injury prevention out of the gate.

“Safety and injury prevention is my No. 1 priority,” she said. “Fitness will be my main focus, especially in Phase 1, but leading all the way up to games. We have missed out on playing a lot of soccer this summer and even through Phase 1 of summer workouts since we will be no contact, but we can control being in shape and ready to go by the first game on August 19th.”

First year Southmont boys soccer coach Stephanie Kennedy realizes that attendance during the month of July will be critical if the Mounties want to see a positive result on the field.

“We have to be aware of vacations, 4-H, and other activities that are usually happening during this time,” she said. “Any other year they have a month full of practice and weight lifting in so missing a couple isn’t that big of a deal. Now as we are just meeting and only have six weeks, attendance is crucial for our athletes.”

Crawfordsville girls soccer coach Laurie Vellner says the absence of contact throughout the summer and even through at least the first phase will hurt the development of the Athenians.

“The girls are still doing their normal summer conditioning workouts like the past on their own, the only thing missing is the whole team practices with getting touches on the ball in a game like drill or scrimmage,” she said. “Juggling with the ball or rebound passing can only do so much for your confidence on touching the ball and that is my major concern.”

For third-year Fountain Central football coach Ryan Hall, who is trying to guide the Mustangs back to winning ways, says the biggest struggle right now is a lack of routine, and returning to that.

“The struggle will be getting the players back into a routine,” he said. “We have kids questioning themselves about playing and I believe a lot of that has to do with a lack of routine and not being around their teammates. This pandemic has changed the way everyone lives and it is going to take some time for us to get back to normalcy.”

While the first week of Friday Night Lights remains on Friday, Aug, 21, Southmont football coach Desson Hannum says it’s important to remember that it’s not necessary to make up for the lost time immediately.

“I think it is going to be a gradual process to get back into playing shape,” he said. “The month of July will be important, but I think that everyone needs to understand that it will be a process and that we don’t have to make up for the month of June in the first week or two.”

No fall sport uses fist bumps, high-fiving, and huddling more than volleyball, and first-year North Montgomery coach Whitney Hutson believes those voids will present a unique challenge.

“One struggle I foresee facing is how to continue to have a family bond while still maintaining social distancing and following the new procedures,” she said.

Sports that may look somewhat normal this fall include golf and tennis, where social distancing is already in place.

“I don’t know that golf will look that much different,” Southmont girls golf coach Bill Whalen said. “Obviously an outdoor sport where the athletes can stay an appropriate distance from one another. They each have their own equipment and don’t share a common ball.”

Crawfordsville girls golf coach Tony Thomas says it’s important to remember that all athletes are facing the same challenges.

“Everybody else is facing the same challenges as us,” he said. “Don’t whine. Stay positive. Get a little bit better every day, and have fun along the way.”

With the four month break set to end in just a few short days, Fountain Central boys tennis coach Chris Webb thinks all athletes will be eager to return.

“I believe that all area athletes will be ready to go on July 6,” he said. “Everyone has experienced what times would be like without school and sports. I believe many will be fully recharged and will not take anything for granted.”

In a time of continued uncertainty throughout the state and country, athletes and students will have the opportunity to return to some type of normalcy in the coming weeks.

“My hope is that we as coaches and our players understand and appreciate the fact we should all feel fortunate and be excited to take advantage of this opportunity,” Crawfordsville football coach Kurt Schlicher said.

And an overall positive tone will be key as athletes, coaches, and parents continue to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The most important thing is to speak positively to the players,” Fountain Central volleyball coach Alyssa Larson said. “The attitudes of parents, teachers, and other supporters will trickle down to the athletes. They need to know that although the season may look a little different, we are going to do the best we can to create a sense of normalcy for them this season.”

The bottom line is each day will be presented with its own challenges, and one week or one month from now will likely look totally different than today.

“The unknown is the biggest obstacle that we are going to face,” North Montgomery athletic director Matt Merica said. “We have a solid plan in place for what the situation is today, but not knowing what may happen in the future is on our minds.”

“Our focus on July 6 is to get through Phase 1 safely.”

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