Utica football coach Charlie Rowley won’t be using a megaphone in his socially-distant huddle when practice begins today. But it’s a thought.
“I have not done that,” he chuckled. “Might be a good idea though. One of our coaches has a speaker with a microphone, but it hasn’t gotten to that point yet.”
The Ohio High School Athletic Association has said repeatedly over the last few weeks that practice will start Aug. 1 and it’s here complete with all of the uncertainty of whether or not there will be a season.
“I told our kids that no matter what happens as far as the season is concerned — none of us control that — but (they) should be really proud of (themselves),” Fredericktown coach Will Hartley said. “They’ve done a lot of work with a lot of unknowns through some really difficult and challenging times since the beginning of June. That’s something – regardless of what happens with the season – that they should look back on with pride.”
Several football teams in the area have adapted their schedules. East Knox, Mount Vernon and Utica will practice Saturday, as scheduled. But Centerburg, Fredericktown and Highland are holding off until Monday. Danville, which had a player test positive for COVID-19, is under quarantine until Tuesday.
“We planned that (Monday) start even before this whole thing took shape,” Centerburg coach Andy Colella said. “Initially, we weren’t going to anything different. Since (there are no scrimmages), we’re going to modify times. You don’t want to get in a situation where you burn kids out and they lose interest. I think there’s a fine line there between getting what needs to get done and also at the same time, keeping the well-being of everybody – players and coaches – in the right place as well.”
Highland coach Matt Jones has adjusted the normal August schedule without school-versus-school scrimmages.
“We scaled our two-a-day schedule back a little bit,” he said. “We’re just going a two and a half-hour practice. It’s going to more of an in-season-type (practice) from a time aspect. I told the kids that we’ll reassess next Friday and see where everything is at; what we’re able to actually do. If we have to add more time on, then that’s what we’ll do. But, for right now, we’ve decided to go this route and see how things go.”
At Utica, Rowley plans for normalcy in very abnormal times.
“We’re proceeding as if we’re having a normal season until we’re told differently,” he said. “Obviously, we’re taking the precautions that we’re supposed to and doing things to stay safe. But as far as planning ahead, we’re going to keep going until we’re told that we can’t.”
Hartley echoes Rowley attempt at normalcy.
“The first week, we’re going to try to go as normal as we possibly can for a two-a-day in Week 1,” he said. “Then, we’re going to finish up the week with an intrasquad scrimmage.”
Fredericktown had a preview scrimmage scheduled Aug. 14. Instead, the Freddies will do an intrasquad scrimmage that will attempt to mirror a normal Friday night.
Rowley hasn’t made a definitive plan to replace scrimmages, but he has some ideas.
“Those scrimmages are pretty important,” he said. “But there’s limits and restrictions on how much contact we can have in practice situations. Every team is in the exact same boat as far as the scrimmaging situation goes. It is what is and we’ll be flexible and adapt and control what we can control.”
The limits on contact time come from the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association guidelines, which were released July 22 along with the OHSAA guidelines.
“We’ve had two or three practices a week since July,” Rowley said. “The kids have been great. The attitudes have been awesome and the effort has been great. They understand that we have to follow certain guidelines and procedures and do whatever we can to help our chances of having a season and be able to play this year. They’re resilient, they’re doing a great job. We’re very pleased with the effort and the attitude that we’ve gotten so far.”
Area coaches are seeing a small jump in participation. But the biggest improvement has been in attendance. Colella believes that players want to be outside with their friends.
“They’ve been awesome,” he said. “We had our last camp day (July 23) and I told them before we left that I was super-impressed with how they’ve handled this situation. I’ve asked them to wear masks and they’ve worn masks. We haven’t been around as much as a team. When we’re in locker rooms, we’re split up. They’ve come every day and they’ve been working their tails off. The energy has been awesome and they’ve been doing everything we’ve asked them to do. They just want the chance to play.”
At this point, the fate of the fall season is up to Governor Mike DeWine. The OHSAA has released its guidelines and kept its constituency informed despite the relative silence by DeWine and his administration.
“My feeling is that I would like to see the OHSAA or the Governor’s office give a little more concrete guidance as far as what, potentially, the season is going to look like,” Hartley said. “I know it’s really hard and we don’t want to make premature decisions. It’s not an easy time to make decisions for anybody, including people in state government and the Ohio High School Athletic Association. But it’s really unsettling.
“There’s just so much uncertainty. You’re constantly planning things with the sense of this black cloud following you that could potentially disrupt your plans literally overnight.”
The OHSAA finally released an alternative, on Friday, if contact sports don’t start on time. If contact sports don’t begin school vs. school competition by Sept. 4, all three seasons will move to a condensed schedule that will run from mid-December through June.
“If things continue to go south and we start losing a portion (or all of our season), I think we’re going to look back on it and say at the end of May, we should have been looking to realistically move the spring in the fall schedule,” Hartley said.
Hartley also coaches track at Fredericktown and lost his spring season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Track and baseball – it’s just easier social distance,” he said. “We were kind of in that mode. It would have been relatively seamless during the height of COVID to come out of that lockdown and go right back into a spring-sport scenario being in the fall. But I think the ship has sailed on that.”