Coaches adapt to new COVID-19 restrictions, loss of offseason training

COVID-19 disrupted the lives of many Americans this year, forcing them to adapt to many new protocols to ensure safety. In response to the pandemic, the district’s administrators settled on a series of phases to reimplement fall sports into student life.

As set by the athletic department, the phases included a non-contact phase with pods of nine, a limited contact phase with the whole team, and finally a full contact phase.

Volleyball coach Mindy Millard said she is thankful for having the opportunity to play this fall season, despite the challenges that come along with sports this fall season.

 “I’m very proud of the girls for working so hard this season,” Millard said. “I’m looking forward to seeing them grow and keep adjusting throughout the season.”

The volleyball players’ practice protocols including frequent hand washing, sanitization of the balls and mask wearing, Millard said. She mentioned that the precautions even brought some advantages to the team.

“Bexley is one of the only schools that mandated mask wearing,” Millard said. “The adjustment to breathing in the mask has put our endurance over other schools.”

Coach Kara Whitlatch of the field hockey team reiterated the importance of exercising similar precautions during their practices and games. 

“We will be playing a game, and I am turning around and making sure they are not too close on the bench,” Whitlatch said. “I am making sure they have their mask on and they are not hugging after a goal is scored.” 

Whitlatch explained that there are many things that she used to do that, due to the new precautions, she no longer can. 

“I used to give out stickers to players to put on their sticks when they score, but because of all the touching, I am not doing that this season,” Whitlatch said. 

Aside from implementing changes in protocols, coaches also were responsible for making the most of a limited preseason. Football coach Mike Golden said that his players faced a great disadvantage by not having a long summer training season.

“We didn’t start pads until a week before the first game,” Golden said. “That is very difficult in our particular sport.”

 Golden explained that because of the limited summer training and lack of scrimmages, the team lost the strength and comradery that they usually benefit from. He said that because they were not able to wear their protective pads, they were weaker in their tackles once they began to play. He said that he felt that the team was disadvantaged and much less prepared to play their first few games than they usually are.

“The team has to be ready to adjust to any changes that can occur in the season, whether that be players playing a different position because they have to replace someone in quarantine, or they have to quarantine themselves,” Golden said.

Whitlatch and Golden explained that they must be ready to adapt when a player needs to quarantine. 

“A player may be looking really good in one position, but if they end up having to quarantine, I have to consider what other players are able to play their position in the meantime,” Whitlatch said. 

Whitlatch explained that the shortened preseason meant the field hockey team began intrasquad scrimmage at the same time that other schools were starting to play games. 

“It almost feels like our first couple of games were scrimmages,” Whitlatch said. “Unfortunately, they have to count in the record.” 

Whitlatch explained that the team had a big disadvantage because of this, but she helped her players understand that they must keep a positive attitude and not become discouraged by the outcomes of the first few games.

She said that it was difficult to create teams where players played well together because she had very limited time to see how the new players meshed with the rest of the team. The freshmen had a more difficult time getting to know the older players and adjusting to the high school style of play because they were limited to small pods for a majority of the summer, Whitlatch added. 

“Even by August, when we were all allowed to practice together, the girls still didn’t even know the names of all the players,” Whitlatch said. “I didn’t even realize that most of them hadn’t met each other yet.”

Whitlatch noted that it is hard to help the girls get to know each other because they are not allowed to have their team dinners. Despite the lack of bonding this season, she said she is proud of the captains for taking initiative in bringing the girls together.

Regardless of the extra precautions taken by the coaches to limit contact and the amount of players permitted in one space, Millard said that the volleyball team had a positive COVID-19 case during their summer workouts. She mandated a 14-day quarantine for all players, which delayed the start of the season.

“It just made us a little less prepared because we didn’t have the opportunity to play together after an already limited training period,” Millard said.

Golden, however, had to deal with the consequences of players having exposure to the virus during the summer and during the actual season. He explained that once it caused the whole team to quarantine, but at other times, it just affected one player, depending on the length of time they were exposed. 

“All we can do is ask for players to wear their mask and keep social distancing to prevent further exposure,” Golden said. “But, unfortunately, some players chose to go to an event that resulted in an exposure.”

Millard explained that the actions of players outside of practice are often out of the hands of coaches, but she has given advice on how the players should take responsibility to keep the whole team safe. 

Whitlatch said that she tells her players that they need to be conscientious of how they act outside of practice.

“I do my best, but unfortunately it’s up to them to decide how important their season is to them, and if they are going to jeopardize it or not,” Whitlatch said.