When Pennsylvania decided to allow schools the opportunity to open their facilities for offseason workouts, many in the state rejoiced.
Starting on June 23 or 24, for example, isn’t all that different from opening up on July 1, which had been the day the state had originally said they could open school properties. However, the very fact that the process is moving forward has, at the very least, buoyed spirits.
The news was welcomed at Athens, where Athletic Director J.B. Sullivan said, “We’re certainly excited. We want to get our athletes back and resume activity as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
Sullivan said that he’d be presenting a safety plan to the school board at Thursday night’s board meeting.
“Hopefully, we’ll get approval from the board and we’ll resume activity. That’s our goal,” he said. “Everyone’s going to have to be smart about it and do it in a safe way, but I know our athletes are chomping at the bit to get back on the field. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to do that safely after we present to the board next Thursday.
“I think it’s great,” said Sayre Athletic Director Randy Felt. “These kids have been out of commission here for three or four months and they need something to look forward to. If we can get them back on the field and keep everyone safe and healthy, I think that’s a great thing.”
Felt noted that they haven’t had a chance to work on a plan yet and that the plan will need to meet guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pennsylvania Department of Education and PIAA. He said that he does expect to be meeting soon to do so.
“There’s a lot to look at, a lot to consider so we have to make sure we have the right people in on this decision and make sure we cover all of the bases,” Felt added.
He noted that he may get some help along the way.
“I’m hearing that next week Northern Tier League athletic directors will get together and bounce ideas off each other so there can be some consistency throughout the league,” Felt said. “I think it’s good. I think it would be very difficult if we were all over the place. I think that would be very helpful for everybody.”
Athens coach Jack Young knows his players will be ready to go whenever they can get back on the field.
“It’s a positive sign,” said Young. “The question is how soon will we submit our plan and when will we be able to get started as far as any athletics. If it’s July 1, it’s July 1 but I know there are a lot of kids itching to do something. Hopefully, it’s sooner, but if it’s July 1, we’ll be ready to get going.”
Young added that the plan, which also must meet Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines, needed approval before anything else could happen.
“The bottom line is they have to approve the plan and then we’re ready to go,” said Young. “They may take on the suggestion of the state not to really open up until July 1. Whenever they say we’re good to go, we’re good to go. I think every sports program will have to approach it a little bit differently and that’ll be part of the plan.”
Young’s counterpart at Sayre, Kevin Gorman, was also happy to get the word.
“It would definitely be pretty nice (to get out there),” said Gorman. “Nobody expects this situation to happen, but we’ve been waiting for an update and we got a pretty good one. The staff and I are pretty excited to get out there and get to work.”
Gorman said that he and his staff have used the time to plan out what they want to do on both sides of the ball.
“We’ve had a little more time to dial it in,” Gorman said.
The Sayre coach said that, while there are workouts available either online or sent from coaches to athletes, there’s one thing that’s not known.
“I know some of the guys do stuff by themselves, but sometimes you never know what some guys are doing,” Gorman said. “We try to stay on them as much as we can. We hope they police themselves and use their self-discipline (to work on their own). We know we’ll all be a little out of shape when we get back into it. The good thing is that we can mold them back into where we were before this.”
Jake Lezak’s Athens boys’ soccer squad also seems anxious to get going.
“My players have been asking me for weeks,” said Lezak. “They felt that we’d be able to get back on the field right after graduation based on what the governor had said earlier and obviously it didn’t work out that way. The upperclassmen I’ve talked to are very anxious.”
Lezak, though happy, said that the process could take some time to work through.
“They kind of put it back on the school districts to lay out this return to play plan,” he said. “They said ‘go ahead but you have to submit a plan and it has to be board approved.’ That stuff takes time. There are a lot of guidelines they have to follow.”
Sullivan remains optimistic.
“We have some great coaches here at Athens, and they’re all looking to get back to what they love doing,” said Sullivan. “I’m excited for them and all of our athletes. As long as we can safely do it we certainly want to be out there. I’ve missed sports as much as anyone, so I’m very excited to get them back doing what they love.”
Felt added that it wasn’t something they wanted to rush into.
“Yes, we want to get the kids back and able to do some activities,” Felt said. “I’m sure we’ll be pretty restricted in what we’ll be able to do. We want to make sure that we take our time, we do this right, keep everybody safe and roll this out when it’s approved.”
One aspect of the directive is that equipment is to be cleaned after every use. It’s difficult to clean, for example, a football in the air between a quarterback and a receiver. The same is true for a volleyball between set and spike and a soccer ball being passed between players. That means workouts would be primarily individual conditioning with ball handling skills for volleyball. Soccer and basketball players would be able to add shooting.
“That can be a challenge for some sports,” said Felt. “If we can get them out there running drills and conditioning, that will be a good start for us.”
One thing that all could agree on is that the layoff may have made the heart grow fonder of the training and workouts that have been missed.
“Kids have been cooped up since early spring and now, with the school year officially over, I think they’re chomping at the bit to get back out there,” said Felt.