Uncertainty looms for high school athletes

Spring-Ford students training remotely until they can resume workouts on campus and in-person activities

Photo courtesy of lifetouch
The Spring-Ford soccer team plays a game last September. Fall athletes are currently training remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Matt Dunne, Sports Editor

That Thursday on March 12 was just like any other at Spring-Ford Area High School. 

Speculation was running rampant, though, as the student body wondered if the school could possibly get a day off for a deep cleaning because of the novel coronavirus constantly referenced in the news. 

The day wore on as rumblings went through the school that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf would provide an update on how schools should proceed due to the crisis. Winter championships were wrapping up, and the Spring-Ford swim team was actually at the state tournament on the now infamous day.

Spring student-athletes piled into their seventh period, ready to watch the clock and get out for their practices. Tryouts had recently ended, and there was certainly some excitement surrounding these Rams’ teams. 

Softball was coming off the best season in program history, baseball had left for Florida for their preseason, boys lacrosse was gearing up to begin their attempt to win a 10th straight PAC title, girls lacrosse was hungry to end a drought, and boys tennis looked to repeat as Pioneer Athletic Conference champions and avenge their previous early exit in districts.

During that seventh period, the Governor announced students of Montgomery County would not go to school for two consecutive weeks. Some students were elated and quite short-sighted of what was to come. 

Those spring athletes never got a chance to achieve their goals as the seasons were cancelled. Now, the athletes of the Fall are wondering if they are going to meet the same fate.

The road to a return became a bit clearer June 10 when the Governor’s Office and PA Department of Education issued preliminary guidance for high school sports teams to resume workouts and in-person activities. 

As explained in a PIAA press release, schools located in green and yellow phase counties of the state’s coronavirus reopening plan must have a return-to-play plan in place that ensures “all sport teams and organizations conduct their operations in the manner best designed to prevent or mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety of the athletes and the communities they serve.”

The return-to-play plan must align with the PDE’s Preliminary Guidance for Phased Reopening of Schools, be approved by the local board of directors, and posted on the school’s website. 

“Pennsylvania has some of the best athletes and teams in the country and they can now begin to safely return to organized sports,” said Gov. Wolf via a press release. “This guidance balances keeping student athletes safe from COVID-19 while allowing them to participate in an important part of their lives.

“This is another step toward reopening our state and getting things back on track. As students and teammates get ready to train and compete, it’s important that they follow precautions to protect each other and their community from the risk of COVID-19.”

All District One schools are in the same position as Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties are in the yellow phase. 

Sports teams located in yellow phase areas must adhere to gathering limitations of 25 people — a number that could include coaches, players, athletic staff, and officials — while the green phase areas allow gatherings of 250 or 50 percent capacity. 

“Allowing voluntary activities to commence at PIAA member schools as early as the approval by the local board is a significant move to allow students to be students,” said PIAA Executive Director, Dr. Robert A. Lombardi in the press release. “We are very appreciative and supportive of the Governor’s staff and PDE for allowing our input and having discussion of opening schools for voluntary workouts and activities”

Until the day Spring-Ford teams can resume practice on school grounds, athletes have been keeping active remotely. Spring-Ford Strength and Conditioning Coach Will Geosits has been posting Fall workouts for the majority of the teams to help them stay in shape while isolated. 

Football coach Chad Brubaker emphasized the importance of communication as teams navigate remote training. 

“We are having weekly meetings to check up on the players and keep them updated on any of the latest news through our software systems,” Brubaker said this spring, adding that “All of the coaches really miss hanging out with the players and interacting with them.”

Field hockey coach Jennie Anderson offered a similar sentiment to Brubaker’s this spring, stating she has asked her players to go through their own personal workout or the ones provided by Geosits. 

“Some of our players have been completing the Teambuildr workouts or ones on their own,” Anderson said. “We also have our own team workout calendar for the players to look at as a guide in the summer.” 

Anderson closed by saying it’s already been interesting without the face-to-face dynamic. But, she thinks this summer will only highlight that. “We will probably face this a lot more in the summer and we will communicate via email or Twitter. If we cannot meet, we will have to use the online interaction methods.”

Obviously, these are unprecedented times and will continue to be. There are many questions that have to be answered by the PIAA and the schools themselves before any sort of return is imminent. 

The overwhelming opinion from all of these voices is they are all hoping to find a way for students to have their respective seasons safely this Fall.