High school football teams try to tackle unknowns of COVID-19 as workouts resume

Updated: Jul. 28, 2020 at 5:44 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - High School football tries to tackle the unknowns with a return to summer workouts. The threat COVID-19 poses to both players and coaches health changes the way programs train, for now.

At Lexington, training for the 2020 football season is underway in a different way. There are smaller group sizes on the practice fields, with no more than nine players to a group. No pads on players, yet. No contact. Only physical fitness drills designed to get players in shape to play games this fall potentially.

"Be full speed, run, and condition; work toward a season has a lot of the kids excited," said Lexington football head coach Perry Woolbright.

Excitement fuels the socially distant Wildcats phase one workouts. Staggered training times utilizing different fields of play. No football use allowed in this phase.

It's the same guidelines passed down from the South Carolina High League that Chapin High implements to keep its players safe.

Coaches at both Lexington and Chapin perform player temperature checks and wear masks while engaged in workouts.

“This has been good,” said Chapin football head coach Justin Gentry. “Given us an opportunity to get the guys in shape and thinking football.”

At Chapin, being on the field together serves an even higher purpose beyond training.

“We’ve had a tough year,” mentioned Gentry. “In our building, we’ve lost a player and lost a coach since January. To have the guys and the opportunity to heal as a family.”

So far, no players or coaches at Chapin or Lexington opted out of training ahead of the season amid concerns related to COVID-19. Both leaders acknowledge the major challenge in tracing potential positives due to testing. Unlike professional sports and some college programs, widespread testing will not be available.

“Our level people are only going to get tested if they have symptoms and things like that,” added Woolbright. “We’re going to have more of an unknown at our level if somebody does have it or not. I think it will be harder to see if this team has a big outbreak because unless a lot of people get sick and go get tested, won’t have that as much.”

A world of unknowns. This is why both coaches adhere to all the protocols and guidelines to keep everyone safe and enjoy being together. And, even being safe will not guarantee a season.

“Safety of our coaches and players is paramount,” said Gentry. “We got to prepare for the pre-season and season, and postseason, and that’s what our mindset is on right now and trying to do it safely.”

If permitted by the districts, the plan for both teams is to increase training group sizes next week and introduce footballs into the workouts.

Over at Richland One, they will permit its football teams to begin workouts on August 3rd. Keenan head football coach Sean Gilley welcomes the opportunity to see his kids in person for the first time in months.

“We have guidelines we will follow,” said Gilley. “We think if we follow those guidelines, we should be safe.”

We asked coached Gilley if any coaches expressed concerns about returning to these workouts, knowing that they are more so on the vulnerable population than some of your players.

“We have a few coaches, older guys, they have some pre-existing conditions,” added Gilley. “They’re little skeptical, which is natural. We want to make sure everyone is taken care of with their families first.”

Gilley expects a couple of coaches to stay away from the field, for now. He anticipates all Raiders players to participate. Even if there’s no season, the chance to work with the kids means so much.

“Players are an extension of your family,” said Gilley. “Even if it’s for two or three weeks, help guys understand your coaches are still your coaches. We still love and care about you.”

The SCHSL tentatively has fall sports practices resuming in full on August 17th, with an eye on beginning the football season on September 11th.

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