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This has been a difficult spring and summer to navigate for coaches across the country, as the coronavirus pandemic has thrown the sports world into a loop.
A sense of normalcy was returned to high school sports in South Carolina last week when teams across the state were given the OK from the South Carolina Independent School Association and the South Carolina High School League to resume summer activities under heavy restrictions. Not every school has been able to do so, as SCHSL left that decision to school districts.
SCISA schools generally were quicker to return to action. Wilson Hall hit the field for the first time last Monday and student-athletes were eager to get back to action. Barons football head coach Adam Jarecki said more kids than ever turned up to practice on that first day, which was a pleasant surprise.
"We didn't know who was playing that first day because we emailed everybody, because they weren't in school. That was kind of an adventure, but we've got better numbers than we've ever had," said Jarecki, who has had number issues over the past couple of years. "Right now, we're looking at about 38 JV (junior varsity) kids and the same for varsity. That's more kids than we've ever had.
"Monday we showed up and there were 60 kids out here, which is more than we've ever had at a summer workout."
Before the Barons could begin workouts, Jarecki and his staff had to devise a plan for what practice could look like under restrictions from SCISA and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Those regulations include temperature checks and a health questionnaire at the beginning of practice, limiting groups to 10 people or less and no balls or other equipment during Phase 1 of the return, which is a 2-week period. When the weight room is being used, equipment has to be cleaned every time a group changes.
"The SCISA office told us about a week before we could start when we could start, what we could start and how we could do it," said Jarecki. "We work around in different stations and we spread them out. Last week we were on the baseball field because we had graduation. We have a group on the track, a group on one end of the football field, one group on the other and a group in the weight room. It really depends on the numbers. If we have even more kids come in, then we have to add a group, because you've got to keep it to a group of 10 kids."
Because the Barons can't use equipment, the main focus of the summer workouts is conditioning, especially since these kids have been without organized sports for two months. The challenge for Jarecki and his staff is making sure the conditioning stays interesting, because you can only ask a kid to run in so many different ways.
"Where we have to do a good job, especially this week, is we're so limited in what we can do that we have to come up with different ways to run to get them in shape," said Jarecki. "That will be our challenge for the rest of this week is how to do things differently, while maintaining the same order."
Jarecki is hoping this will be the last week of no additional equipment, as Wilson Hall is in the midst of its second week in Phase 1. Phase 2 is still a bit up in the air. SCISA will see how Phase 1 goes and sees what changes can be implemented for Phase 2.
"Phase 2 might be more of the same, it may be worse with more limitations, who knows? We're hoping we'll be able to start football type things, but we'll see," said Jarecki.
Despite all of the restrictions, Jarecki is just glad he's able to get his team together for the first time since the end of the football seasonl.
"The biggest part of the summer is getting them together and trying to build those bonds and get that team together," said Jarecki. "They've been at home for a couple of months and whether they like it or not, they miss being around each other. They miss messing with each other in the halls and spending time together. And 90% of them played a spring sport and that got cancelled. I think they were really ready to get together."
And the players were excited to be back to practice. Senior captains Logan Kennedy, Wade Payne, Graham VanPatten and Michael Towery were all glad that their final season at Wilson Hall was finally underway.
"It feels amazing. It just feels so good to be out here working with my brother," Kennedy sad. "Personally, over break I'm blessed enough to have a home gym, so I did a lot of lifting and running. I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life, but out here I think it's even better that we're doing this together. It doesn't really matter what we're doing, as long as we're getting that bond together."
Payne echoed that sentiment.
"We've all really been kind of working out at home and doing our own thing, but now it's nice to be doing it with the team," said Payne.
While the practice structure isn't exactly ideal, VanPatten said he and his teammates are just glad to have an outlet to get better together.
"It's definitely been different, we're used to having the whole team together and kind of going through it together, but we've just got to take it station by station," said VanPatten. "It hurts, but it gives you a goal, four stations, 20 minutes each, and if you can get through that then you're good. It's been different, but we're still getting our work in and we're still working our hardest."
"We're normally in bigger groups, so the whole team gets to bond more, but we're still getting to put some work in," added Towery. "Big gains, you know. We're getting out here and getting ahead of everybody else getting the team together."
The Barons are glad they're able to at least do something now, but they're also hungry for the next phase, where they can hopefully get some footballs out on the field and start working on the finer details of the game.
"We've been looking forward to our senior seasons since fifth grade and even before that, and we are ready for phase two," said VanPatten. "We're ready to get some footballs out here, run through some plays and for our first game we want to be in midseason form. We're looking to have our best season in a while."
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