Photo: Gadsden City football coach Ali Smith instructs Shyem Wyatt (left) and Kelsey Smith during a summer workout last Tuesday (June 2). (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The window to the fall high school sports season is officially open.
Following the recent announcement by Alabama High School Athletic Association that member schools were allowed to begin summer workouts on June 1, several local football teams immediately took to the practice fields and weight rooms.
Gadsden City, Southside, Sardis, West End, Gaston and Coosa Christian started workouts this past week, while Etowah, Hokes Bluff Ashville, Glencoe and Westbrook Christian start either this Monday or Tuesday (June 8-9).
Although players were eager to shake the proverbial dust off their tennis shoes and dive right in, their coaches made sure that COVID-19 social distancing measures were followed to the letter.
According to AHSAA guidelines, all coaches, athletes and personnel may be screened each day for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 infection prior to participating in any workout or gathering. Only school personnel, coaches, athletic trainers, and student-athletes should be present during activities while maintaining distance of six feet between person whenever possible. For any activity requiring interaction closer than six feet, a facial covering is recommended.
With over 100 players on the spring roster, Gadsden City head football coach Ali Smith acknowledged that the size of the GCHS campus helped with the logistical challenge of rotating his small groups.
“Fortunately, we’ve got enough room where we can keep the kids spread out in small groups of five. We’ve got them on the [football] field, we’ve got them on the track, we’ve got them on the practice field, we’ve got them in the weight room and we’ve got a few of them conditioning in the gym. We’ve coordinated the drop-off times where we’ve got a 7:15 group, a 7:30 group, a 7:40 group and a 7:50 group so everyone doesn’t arrive at the same time.”
As a further precaution, Smith and his staff set up a temperature-taking station in order to screen for the coronavirus. Water and Powerade are provided on an individual basis by a trainer and players are directed to frequently sanitize their hands.
“We’ve got a couple of kids who aren’t here whose parents are a little concerned about health issues, but it’s so far so good, and we hope to keep it that way.”
Southside head coach Gary Nelson, who was hired in early February, was encouraged by the number of participants. He is holding both morning and evening workouts in order to accommodate players’ job schedules.
“We’ve averaged right around 80 kids every day this week, so I’m super-impressed with our turnout. Our kids have been very energetic, and I’m encouraged in the way our coaches have handled the importance of the social distancing. We spent a lot of time in preparing our itinerary to make sure that our groups are small and self-contained. It’s been a challenge, and I’m proud of the way our coaching staff has risen to that challenge. As far as the kids are concerned, I think they’re excited to just be around people after that long layoff.”
With 24 players on the roster, Coosa Christian head coach Rod Cates noted that social distancing was not an issue for his small Class 1A squad. You end up on top of each other sometimes, but for the most part we’re spacing them out pretty well. We’re wiping things down in between groups and keeping it as clean as we can. We’re really young, but I liked the group we’ve got. We’ll be starting some eighth and ninth graders, which is not good for varsity ball, but they’re working really hard and seem to all get along well.
First-year Gaston coach Matt Harris also had 24 players report for the first week of conditioning and weightlifting.
“You could tell that they’ve not been in the weight room for two months, but they handled it fairly well,” he said. “You could tell that that were excited to be there.”
Harris, who emphasizes nutrition, went so far as to write a “do’s and don’t’s” if eating well on the chalkboard in the field house.
“Kids don’t take care of themselves, and that’s simply because they’re kids. So if we at least talk about good nutrition on a regular basis and get five to eat right and get the right amount of rest, that’s five kids who will perform better than they would have. It’s a matter of explaining to the kids of what their bodies will accomplish of they take care of it.”