It didn’t take long for many local high school coaches to begin conducting in-person strength and conditioning workouts with their athletes once the IHSA officially permitted such events to resume.
High school teams were allowed to get back to work — following a strict list of Illinois Department of Public Health-approved mandates along the way — as soon as June 6. Many jumped at the opportunity to regain a sense of normalcy amid the ongoing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mahomet-Seymour volleyball coach Stan Bergman adopted a different approach.
Yes, he and his staff, entering their second season in charge of the Bulldogs, established workouts for his next team. But he and his assistants will go the entire month of June without face-to-face meetings between themselves and their athletes. M-S is scheduled, right now, to open the 2020 volleyball season at Champaign Central on Aug. 25.
“I have taken a look at this COVID-19 situation and the social distancing in the light of the safety and the best interest of our kids, and not volleyball at this point,” Bergman said. “It’s not worth it, to be honest with you, right now for them to try and get together.”
Bergman’s approach will change whenever Stage 2 of the IHSA’s “Return To Play” plan is approved by the IDPH. That phase will fall in line with “Restore Illinois” Phase 4, which is scheduled to go into effect across the state Friday.
“Once Stage 2 opens up,” Bergman said, “... I’ll feel a bit more comfortable getting together with them.”
M-S as a whole is in a unique situation right now, with Tuesday’s news that an “unofficial prom” at a Mahomet home in June has been linked to double-digit COVID-19 cases.
M-S superintendent Lindsey Hall immediately suspended any athletic activities at the school.
Bulldogs athletic director Matt Hensley said Wednesday his teams will not engage in any events next week — though he added that already was planned, as M-S typically considers the Fourth of July week a “dead week.”
Hensley also said he anticipates a July 6 start to summer contact days despite that rise in COVID-19 cases, so long as Stage 2 of “Return To Play” has been approved by the IHSA.
“Our superintendent has done a really nice job of communicating with the public and with regards of the situation that has transpired,” Bergman said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what the district will allow at that point.”
Mike Allen, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley’s athletic director and football coach, said there was no need to worry about a Tuesday post from the Falcons’ football Twitter account that read “workouts for the rest of the week have been canceled.”
“It is just a generic cancelation,” Allen told The News-Gazette on Wednesday via text. “Just being overcautious right now. At this point, we do not need to take any steps backward if we want to have any chance of having a season.”
Allen said there are no reported COVID-19 cases among the GCMS student body that led to the cancelation.
Tuscola football coach Andy Romine has been rolling along with strength and conditioning workouts since the second week in June, shortly after the IHSA released its Stage 1 guidelines.
The IHSA’s Stage 2 draft includes permission for groups as big as 50 individuals and the use of sports-specific objects such as footballs. This opens the door for 7-on-7 competitions to happen, and Romine said he has two scheduled in late July — against Unity and St. Joseph-Ogden.
“We at Tuscola have, for a little over a decade, had a big 7-on-7 where we usually try to get around eight teams at our place. A lot of parents come. There’s 500 or 600 people at our football facility,” Romine said. “Just because of uncertainty, we’re not going to do that.”
Romine said his roster for the upcomign season numbers about 60 at this point, meaning he and his assistants still will need to divide the group into smaller segments to abide by Stage 2 restrictions.
Romine’s plan is to “continue with exactly what we’re doing, but we start to introduce some football-type things” such as drills and position work.
“I have no worries about us being ready to play football in August with the pace we’re going at,” Romine said. “I still have some worries about us playing football in August in general.”
Romine typically leads two separate multi-day camps in early June and late July, during which he and his staff start to hammer home their playbook and other football intricacies.
Because of the pandemic, Romine has scheduled these camps for two three-day periods over the last two weeks of July.
“Maybe it means we’re a little simpler in the early part of the season,” Romine said. “If things are a little more simplistic, that’s OK.”
Romine carries other concerns, anyway. About the idea of kids playing football while wearing protective face masks. About the season’s October and November portions typically pairing with an influenza peak, and how that will be approached in a nation hampered by COVID-19.
And about space, specifically off the gridiron.
“I do have some concerns about locker room restrictions,” Romine said. “The varsity locker room has been filled to capacity for five consecutive years. Our kids are on top of each other in our locker room. There’s no way around it. The seniors may have to have a locker in the trunks of their cars.”
This is just one of many matters coaches have to take into consideration these days.
For Bergman’s part, he’s been glad to use June as a preparation period for what’s to come. It’s a situation he’s never had to encounter in his two-plus decades coaching area volleyball.
“We’re going to take baby steps into this,” he said. “We’re not going to jump right in and say, ‘OK, we can have 50 people in the gym. Let’s get 50 people in here.’ ... The safety of the kids comes first.”