After the coronavirus pandemic squashed the hope for a spring season and forced alterations to high school graduation ceremonies and summer plans, some looked to the fall for a taste of normalcy.
And to many, fall means football.
Coronado’s football program wrapped its third week of camp Thursday all while navigating through uncharted waters of coronavirus guidelines and restrictions after District 11’s reopening in early June.
“It feels really nice to be back,” said senior left tackle Eric Sansouci. “It’s a different feeling because we have been gone for so long, and of course it’s a bit different with social distancing, but after doing the virtual workouts home alone, and not having anyone to help us along, it’s definitely better being out here.”
Around 6:30 a.m. coach Monte Gutowski and assistant coaches arrive to set up tables at three entrances to the practice field at Coronado. They each have a binder with athlete’s participation waivers, questionnaires, and digital thermometers.
As students arrive they line up at their designated entrance table along paw prints spray painted 6 feet apart and wait for coaches to check temperatures and mark their daily COVID-19 screening questionnaire.
Coaches also complete their own screening and temperature check before each session.
After they are cleared following the daily check-in, the athletes, who have been assigned specific workout groups of 25 based on speed, move to designated workout locations across the Cougars’ practice fields.
“I want to make a competition aspect,” Gutowski said. “We can’t compete against each other, but we can compete within drills and things like that, and I’ve seen a huge increase in just how they’re working together and how they’re helping one another.”
Groups work out for 30 minutes at their assigned area, focusing on skills, lifting or speed, before receiving an 8-10 minute break while they rotate to another workout location. Equipment, if used, is sanitized by coaches after each group rotates through.
Gutowski said around 60 athletes have been consistently participating in the camp four days a week.
“They’re here and they’re working hard and we’re seeing a lot of gain out of it,” Gutowski said. “Their mental and emotional health is increasing in the last three weeks like nobody's business because they are doing this. And getting back into a training mindset is awesome.”
After months of completing virtual workouts at home senior wide receiver Darshan Robinson said he has seen the positive effect of being back around his teammates.
“Mentally I think it's making the guys feel better knowing they have someone to talk to every day instead of sitting in their room doing nothing all day. Now we can communicate and help each other,” Robinson said.
Gutowski also said despite being in the third week of camp, there are still some challenges trying to keep athletes socially distanced throughout the entire workout.
“It is definitely something they’re still getting used to, but we have to tell them, ‘Hey, this is better than nothing,’” Gutowski said.
Lunches are also provided to the athletes after each practice through the Coronado lunch program.
“No matter what they get something every single day when they leave,” Gutowski said. “We want to make sure they have calories right away as soon as their workout is done.”
District 11 announced its reopening plan June 1, allowing teams to begin voluntary camps and summer programming under the following requirements:
- Submission of signed “Return to Play Waiver”
- Temperature screenings and completion of symptom questionnaire before entering the facility. No student with a temperature reading of 100.4 or above will be allowed to participate, and must be symptom-free for 72 hours before returning
- Masks must be worn unless directed by a coach that it is OK to remove
- Athletes will work out in specific groups of limited numbers and will remain with the same group throughout the duration of the camp or program
- Groups will practice social distancing and proper hand-washing techniques
- Participants will not share water bottles
- Locker rooms will remain closed and participants must wear appropriate clothing to minimize sweat transmission
- Equipment will be sanitized between uses
Harrison District 2 and Fremont RE-1 released nearly identical guidelines, and stated that if an athlete does not pass the pre-practice screening on more than one occasion they will lose “practice rights for the remainder of summer workouts.” Under both districts’ Return to Play protocol, parents are also required to wear a face mask if they need to speak with a coach, and are encouraged to drive students to practices as walking could raise their starting temperature at the pre-workout screening.