Phasing football practice into a new normal

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MARYSVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — When Governor Mike DeWine announced in-person high school sports workouts could resume on May 26, a buzz began percolating through Ohio: football in the fall is a possibility. For coaches, that date seemed a bit ambitious.

“My phone blew up with parents and kids, ‘Hey we’re coming back Tuesday,’” said Marysville head coach Brent Johnson. “We had to kinda pull the reigns back to get our plan together.”

About a week later, many student athletes took the field to put those plans into action.

“There was some excitement last night like first day back,” Johnson said. “Parents wanted their kids to come back, they wanted us to have a safe process in place. Our administration here in Marysville, as well as the health department and Memorial Health, put together a great plan we’re following.”

That plan starts before the players arrive for practice.

“So they’re having a self-check at home, where they’re checking temps and filling out a form at home, and then when they arrive, they’ve got to sign another form saying they did that. And then once we have those two forms, they’re ready to go,” Johnson said.

Organizing where they go was the hardest part of bringing the players back to practice.

“The biggest challenge is we’ve got about 115 athletes to get through each day, so how do you do that in groups on 10 and you’re efficient and they’re getting a good workout,” Johnson said.

The answer: six groups with 10 players per group and two workout sessions at different times.

“Everything’s a gym,” Johnson said while watching a group of players do sprints in the parking lot. “We’ve actually made a make-shift weight room in our early college, so we’re lifting there and our weight room, we’ve got two fields conditioning, and two fields doing skill work.”

Marysville football has a lot of room and space to use, but at Worthington Kilbourne, that is not the case. Coach Michael Edwards also has his guys in groups of 10 players, and they are having to schedule many more practice times.

“Right now, we are on a two-group rotation. One group is in the weight room, one group is out on the turf, and then there’s a half-hour cleaning session in between,” Edwards said while explaining the process. “Four days a week we have guys here from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. filtering in and out.”

Edwards said on day one of practice, they had perfect attendance, and that parents and players were all ready to get back and get going. The coaching staff wants to keep that attendance rate high, so they are monitoring players’ health with an online spreadsheet.

“It’s really important for our school district and us to keep track of not only attendance but also symptoms of COVID-19. So you’ll see on there, ‘Did you have a headache? Were you vomiting? Did you have contact with other COVID-19 people?’ And if those are a yes, in any of those boxes, number one, we ask don’t even come. But if you do come and tell us yes on one of those, you’re positive on one of those, we send them home,” Edwards said.

He said it is all about clarity and transparency and taking the extra steps with health and safety because, in the end, there is one goal: to have a football season in the fall.

“I think the one thing we have to continue to stress to our parents and players and everybody, is if we do this right and we get through phase one as a success, we’re onto phase two. And if we get phase two right, then we’re onto phase three,” Edwards said. “Phase three starts becoming a lot more of what we are used to in a normalcy aspect. We just have to take the right steps once again, being smart, being safe, be leaders in this and just hope that progression continues.”

Coronavirus in Ohio resources:

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