Indiana high school teams moved to the second stage of reopening for fall competitive sports this week when restrictions on the types of workouts allowed were loosened.
Under a protocol detailed by the Indiana High School Athletic Association, the schools are allowed to move beyond fundamental, basic conditioning and drills.
In the case of Seymour High School football, Athletic Director Kirk Manns said that means players can now wear pads. In the case of Medora volleyball, Athletic Director Brad McCammon said that means players can go beyond simply batting the ball off the gym wall.
“The kids were good with it,” McCammon said of the minimum allowable workouts that emphasized social distancing and trying to get into shape, but they are ready for more.
In the case of Medora volleyball, that means the players can pass the ball to one other, not simply slam hits on the wall.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to produce thousands of new cases each day and the United States has seen more than 143,000 deaths, various segments of society are struggling to regain normal routines.
In the case of sports, from high schools to the pros, leagues are attempting to ramp up and begin fresh schedules. Local high school sports are scheduled to start competing in August and are going through this phased re-entry to improve conditioning and sharpen dormant skills.
Manns, who happened to be watching the Owls football team practice when reached, said the difference between the first phase and the second is major.
“Our football team now will be in helmets and shoulder pads as they would be in a normal summer,” he said.
After the two-week conditioning period, teams that compete in fall sports are now in the stage where they would have been for workouts in another year. The next stage also allows for coaches to spend more time with athletes.
One thing that is not the same as always is the requirement that teams test for the coronavirus when players show up.
“We screen kids every morning, first and foremost,” Manns said.
Despite all of the effort and planning the state and local high schools have put into trying to make practice and participation as safe as possible, Manns still worries an outbreak, a blip or a failure to stem the advance of the virus may still shut down sports participation before these teams can play a game.
However, three weeks into mingling and practicing, Manns said it is good to see the teams healthy.
“We’re fortunate,” he said. “We’re in Week 3. We’re out here. The kids are out here hooting and hollering. That’s a win.”
Manns recognizes how fragile the whole operation is. A player on Brownstown Central’s football team tested positive and practice was halted for more than a week. Teams can be one positive test away from an interruption in their plans.
“We’re glad to be back,” Manns said. “It feels great. The only thing we can do is do our part.”
McCammon said Medora players have closely followed the rules of engagement to avoid unnecessary contact. They got the message about making sure their practices during the first phase came off with a commitment to social distancing and close following of other rules.
High schools statewide have followed the IHSAA guidelines, but some teams, McCammon has heard, have been blindsided by positive tests, one football team coping with its defensive backfield’s positive tests and a cross-country team elsewhere.
“Everybody is wondering if we will get the season off the ground,” he said. “You just never know from day to day.”
One area school that has not quite made the switch to the second phase yet is Crothersville. The school only recently hired Jacob Dunn as its new athletic director, and no teams could practice until he took over and implemented the school’s rules.
“We could not practice until I was hired, so we’re kind of behind the other schools,” Dunn said. “We’ll probably have Phase 1 for an extra week.”