By Lenny Sementi
Tuscola’s football team usually hits the road running when the first of June rolls around boasting a near perfect attendance rate for most of the summer. The COVID-19 shut down not only kept the Warriors out of the weight room the final nine weeks of the school year but also postponed the start of summer workouts.
When asked how odd it was not being able to start summer workouts the first week of June head coach Andy Romine responded. “It was different, our kids were chomping at the bit like always. We missed a lot of time in the weight room not being in school for the fourth quarter so they were ready,” stated head coach Andy Romine. “I was getting texts and calls daily from kids wanting to workout but we couldn’t, I loaned out all my own workout equipment out to some players so they could do things at home. Others improvised and a few didn’t probably do enough. Honestly the toughest part for all the coaches was not being able to see the kids, that interaction is why we do this.”
That all changed when the IHSA in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Return to Play Guidelines for IHSA sanction teams beginning on Friday June 6. As a result of the Governor’s Restore Illinois Plan, beginning June 6, 2020 IHSA member schools are permitted to open for voluntary strength and conditioning sessions. School districts should work with their local health departments on current restrictions in their area prior to beginning contact. Local school administration determines the permitted activities at their school. Prioritizing the health and safety of all students and staff must remain the focus of each IHSA member school. Outdoor workouts are highly encouraged over indoor workouts, to reduce transmission, as presented by the IHSA. “Schools are not able to conduct workouts under the Return to Play Guidelines unless they have their local school districts approval and had to be located in a state Health Region that was currently in Phase 3 (or better) under Governor Pritzker’s Restore Illinois Plan.
“I commend the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for crafting a plan that fits within the framework provided by state leadership, and refuses to compromise safety,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “The IHSA Return to play Guidelines offer some important first steps in allowing student-athletes to reacclimate both physically and mentally to athletics, but more importantly, they allow each school to assess their own individual situation and determine if and when they want to proceed. We will continue to seek input from our SMAC while following guidance from the IDPH, on what potentially happens next in late June.”
As soon as the coach Andy Romine got the okay from the school districts administration and the Douglas County Health Department he implemented a plan that would follow all guidelines and set the Warriors start of summer conditioning for the morning of Wednesday June 10. Cross Country head coach Mike Rosenbaum welcomed back his athletes as well on that day and joined with head volleyball coach Lydia Miller and head girls basketball coach Tim Kohlbecker a few hours to kick off their summer.
Football separated into five groups of nine with a coach rotating between five stations as the Warriors football team welcomed back nearly 50 players each day starting on the 10. The boys in black and gold voluntarily took part in two the first week, three the second week and two this week with workout sessions from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Some of the requirements that must be followed when conducting voluntary strength and conditioning sessions: Maintain social distancing, six-feet apart, groups of 10 or less and those groups must be predetermined and remain the same, interaction between groups shall be avoided, sessions can only include weightlifting, running, and exercises designed to promote physical fitness, sport-specific drills are not permitted, and sport-specific equipment may not be used, players shall bring their own water bottle, shoes, towels, and other personal equipment. The use of locker rooms, shared water coolers with cups, and water fountains will be prohibited during this stage.
Coaches must maintain a daily record of what athletes are participating. Each player is asked a panel of five questions on arrival to each workout. Four of which pertain to COVID-19 symptoms and one asking if the athlete had close contact or had cared for someone with COVI-19.
“As coaches we drafted groups, trying to put a few kids from each class in every group,” said the coach. “It was a lot of fun and so far the smaller groups seem to be keeping the kids more accountable, they are pushing each other and building a bond with kids in their groups they might not have known prior to the start of this. Our guys are getting after it, they show up early, so we can go through the questionnaire and check them in on iPads, they put in a solid hour or so and then are done for the day.”
Last week Monday the 15, the IHSA on the IHSA board of Directors approved a plan to build on Illinois high school student-athletes’ return to sports. Expanding on conditioning drills for student athletes with high school coaches. These new guidelines for the second phase of the Return to play will add more options for the coaches to implement.
Phase two would begin in regions that have reached the fourth phase of Governor Pritzker’s plan for Illinois. Initially it would allow for twenty contact days with groups up to fifty people for the rest of summer while still maintaining social distancing guidelines when possible. It would also give coaches the ability to introduce specific sports equipment like balls, bats, gloves, etc. to be implemented into practice. These are guidelines the IHSA has passed along to the Illinois Public Health Department for approval before they can be enacted.
When asked about the differences from prior years workouts Romine stated. “We are doing a little more speed and agility so we can stay outside in open spaces more. Our clean jerk station is in the parking lot so it’s an adjustment. Other than that there is no real difference our guys take pride in summer time work that’s what Warriors do. We will adapt to any changes thrown our way, and will keep the safety of all involved at the forefront of everything.”