COACHES FACE CHALLENGES AS FALL SPORTS REMAIN UNCERTAIN
High school sports have taken a back seat since the Coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of spring sports. Months have flown by and there has not been much word if they’re coming back in the fall.
During this time, coaches have been facing difficulties during their offseason as fall sports are expected to be returning on September 21st.
Ty Harper, head coach of the Clymer/Sherman/Panama football team, also known as the CSP Wolfpack, has been in his position for the past six years. Like many coaches, Harper has not dealt with something like this before.
One of those challenges is trying to stay in contact with his players and keeping them in a positive state of mind as he tries to get his team ready for a potential season.
“It’s definitely challenging. I think every coach is taking a similar approach to try and maintain contact with their kids whether it’s zoom meetings or text messages or snapchat or however we’re able to communicate with our guys,” Harper said. “We try to stay in contact with them and let them know that we’re here for them, but obviously it’s not the same, it’s frustrating. Hopefully we’re able to get back to normal at some point.”
In the past couple of seasons, Harper adopted an offseason type of competition for his football players. His coaching staff have selected guys on the varsity and junior varsity level and gave them points based on how they do with their conditioning. They also received points on attendance and team activities. Unfortunately, that idea was scrapped because of the pandemic.
Seven-on-seven football in the offseason has been great to his team. Harper would get his players to compete in summer tournaments, which was a great way to install a passing game before the fall season began. However, COVID-19 prevented summer leagues from happening.
Conditioning and checking to see if the kids have been staying in shape is another challenge that arose. During this time in the spring and summer, players on CSP had to get creative in their workout regimes.
“Some of these kids are sending videos of themselves doing chin-ups from trees. We’ve got kids working out in their barns. One of our receivers sent a video of him milking cows and then doing a set of pushups. I think they are making the most of it,” said Harper.
Without summer tournaments, team weightlifting and players competing against each other, team bonding becomes harder to do; the most frustrating part of all of this for Harper and his staff is being with the kids.
“We miss seeing them on a daily basis. We miss being able to have those in-person relationships with them and that has been the most frustrating thing about this whole pandemic,” Harper said.
Harper believes that fall sports are unlikely to happen and can see them playing in the spring of 2021. However, if fall sports were to commence, the team will be ready despite having schemes and play packages becoming simpler than in past years.
The Wolfpack have won back-to-back state titles in Class D (2018 and 2019). Due to regionals and state championships being cancelled, their highest title achievement they can go after is the Section VI Class D crown. A title game they have been to the past three seasons and won them en route to their state-title wins.
It will be interesting to see how volleyball plays out in the fall; there is a chance that some sports could receive the green light while others are postponed and play during a “floating season” in the spring.
Local volleyball coaches are facing similar challenges.
“I think the biggest thing is that the summer is when coaches used it to get the team together and bond,” said Deb Schruefer, the Section VI Girls Volleyball sport chair and girls varsity volleyball head coach at Frontier. “Now that is going to be gone because we start September 21st. You need six practices before your first game and then the following week, league play will start.”
One unique strategy that Schruefer has developed is assigning her players readings throughout the summer. The books are about the mindset of the individual and how to turn something into a positive when challenges arise.
“I truly think that the kids need to understand it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to take a risk and we’ll learn from it. I think in this time right now, they have to have that confidence to look at any challenge that is going to face them,” Schruefer said.
Schruefer also mentioned that the decision of fall sports is 50/50. However, as chairman, she wants to see the kids receive a chance to have a season.
In addition, a challenge that fall-sport coaches went through is their scheduling.
Scheduling, as one would expect, has been difficult given the uncertainties that lie ahead. Jeff Costello, varsity head coach for Barker field hockey, had to put together his fall schedule right as the pandemic was starting.
“When this whole thing started, we had to put a schedule in place. It was my gut feeling that things were not going to be good. I felt like when we were putting a schedule together and we were communicating with coaches and setting up non-league games, I really felt like I would be shocked if this was ever going to come to fruition,” said Costello.
Before the virus started to run amuck, Costello and his team were competing in an indoor league that runs from January to April. The league reached the halfway point of the season and then had to shut down due to COVID-19.
Since then, the only thing that is really going on for field hockey are club teams. Like football and girls volleyball, with no summer leagues and clinics over the past couple of months, players have had to take it into their own hands to stay in shape.
Field hockey has long been a flagship program at Barker. Costello has led his team to multiple Section VI Class C championships, including a pair of deep runs in 2018 and 2019 that ended in the state semifinals.
Unfortunately Barker will not have the opportunity to defend its Far West Regional title as the state tournament has already been cancelled this year.
Costello is okay with fall sports moving to spring if that does officially get announced within the next couple of days. However, Jeff is in agreeance with Ty Harper and many other coaches, where if fall sports do happen, they will need to know soon so they can be prepared.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo will be making an announcement this week if fall sports will be permitted to take place.
Following Governor Cuomo’s decision, if high school sports receive the green light, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association will use the following timetable to make a final decision on if, and how, high school sports will get underway.
Within 24 hours, Section Directors & Officers will meet. The NYSPHSAA COVID Task Force will meet the following day. A final decision from NYSPHSAA Officers will be rendered.