Brownstown Central football coach Reed May has led the Braves’ program for 28 years, so he has his routines down, plans etched in concrete, a certain way of doing things that have produced victories 83.5% of the time.
Then along came 2020 when he, his football team and everyone in the world were confronted by a unique problem, the train going off the rails, things that no one else has ever seen before. The short name is COVID-19.
"It’s nuts," May said.
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Diplomats and medical professionals, sports officials and the man in the street around the globe have watched the ravages of the coronavirus defy most careful planning and overwhelm carelessness.
And no one has uttered as succinct a summary as May to define the world’s situation.
"It’s going to get nuttier," he said.
Since the rules can change daily, along with the unexpected, May could be right.
Meanwhile, the Braves, coming off of an 11-2 season, are trying to play football and will continue to play football until someone tells them they cannot.
"We go day by day and see what happens," May said.
The Indiana High School Athletic Association gave permission for schools to inch back into conditioning, to ease back into workouts, to prepare for a fall sports season that everyone desperately hopes will take place.
That’s all up to the virus, all up to whether or not players get sick and whether or not the dangerous illness is contained.
The Braves were pleased to be free of shackles Wednesday morning, high school players who are germ-free and pouring their energy into a passion and keeping fingers crossed that a schedule they once took for granted will come to fruition.
Lifting weights, focusing on basic drills, 42 Braves tried not to worry there would be no fall football season, tried not to worry that just like their friends in the 2020 senior class who could not compete in spring sports, they would be benched. This living dangerously, living on the edge is nerve-wracking, but they also express gratefulness.
"I’m enjoying every second of it I’ve got," said senior linebacker Lucas Hines. "Just to be able to play. I was scared for a minute."
With about 12 million people worldwide affected by infection, normal daily activity was shut down in March. Depending on the state, depending on the locale, parents and families, workers and employees continue to grapple with a mysterious foe that can kill them.
"It’s terrible for everyone," Hines said.
This gang of guys isn’t asking for much. All they want is to be able to play one more season of high school football. Playing a sport, playing any sport, is far less important in the big picture than people people lying in hospital beds trying to breathe on ventilators.
But the players are 15, 16, 17, and for only a short while, football belongs to them, motivates them, provides focus and fun for them. On Monday, when opening day of practice was X’d onto the calendar, senior running back Jayden Steinkamp did not need to be shoved out of his slumber.
He was ready for his day at 6:30 a.m.
"I basically just jumped out of bed," he said. "I’m very happy to be here."
Inside the frigid weight room, rock music cranked up louder than thinking, for inspiration, sun-tanned bodies that only moments earlier had been coping with the Big Sauna of mid-summer outside, built muscle as everyone took turns.
There was social distancing, to a point, though not compared to being in the great outdoors running stadium steps, and when a whistle blew, the young men did not immediately switch stations but paused to spray disinfectant on bars and weights they grasped. That is early season football 2020.
Treyton Ream, a 290-pound senior lineman, said he was extremely glad he was able to hang out at the football field working toward a new season, but what he felt most emotionally was being permitted to hang out with his friends. There was a period during the hiatus from school except for eLearning that Ream pondered the possibility he would not even be able to see them again.
"It’s a lot better than being at home," Ream said.
The heat index was on its way to a likely 100 degrees Wednesday, so there were limits to the joy expressed by players trying to build something for the fall, carrying forward the business of the Braves, which has been winning and winning and winning since before these guys were born.
After drills and lifting, the players knelt in a semi-circle in front of May.
"Study your playbook," May said. "We do have new things."
New things. Social distancing. Wiping down weights. Taking your body temperature before practice. But the Braves were reminded of some old things, too.
Just before the team broke for the parking lot, May raised his right arm.
"I love football," May said.
The players did the same, right arm in the arm, and they repeated after him. But by 9 a.m., that was obvious. If they didn’t love football, they would not have been out on that field.