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Not to be deflated: High School sports teams adjust to limitations, unknown ‘normal’ for fall

David Pressgrove / Craig Press
Moffat County High School assistant football coach Kip Hafey runs through offensive formations with the team at Tuesday morning’s practice. Due to restrictions relating to COVID-19, teams are not allowed to share equipment, so the football team is currently not able to use a football during official practices. Any “ball” sport has had to make significant adjustments to the normal expectations of summer practices and accomplishments this summer.
David Pressgrove / Craig Press

Ryan Peck never thought he would miss the added pressure of having a coach watch over his shoulder as he threw a pass or read the defense. The incoming junior quarterback for Moffat County High School has had a change of heart.

“I miss having a coach point out what throw I could have made or what I missed,” he said. “There were definitely a lot of normal things that we took for granted that we don’t have now.”

At the beginning of June the Colorado High School Activities Association released its regulations for summer sports practices amid the safety concerns of COVID-19. Those rules were passed on to MCHS coaches at a meeting from Principal Sarah Hepworth. One of the most notable regulations was that teams would not be allowed to share equipment, which for the ball sports, was a significant change.

“I left that meeting scratching my head at how we were going to get anything done,” said head boys basketball coach Steve Maneotis. “I was pretty downhearted.”

Sports without a ball

That brings us back to Peck’s desire to have a coach watch his throws. “Sharing equipment” meant that the football team could not transfer a football from one player to another.

“Practice looks completely different,” Peck said. “I wonder if this has changed how we play sports for the next decade?”

Another “ball sport” that has had to significantly adapt is volleyball. Instead of heading to camps or working out in the same space, MCHS Head Coach Jessica Profumo turned her June focus to encouraging her athletes from a distance.

“As a coach I want their focus to be on what they are still in control of; their attitude, their effort, and their health,” she said. “So our focus has been on independent strength, conditioning and mindset.”

When July began the volleyball team started to meet in person and Profumo had worked through what that would look like.

“We still have a lot to do even if we can’t share volleyballs yet,” she said as she planned for returning to the court with her athletes.

One significant adaptation for all sports that traditionally practice in the summer is the loss of team camps.

This week the football team was scheduled to head to a camp in Wyoming. Instead, they are working out this week in small groups in the weight room and on the field. Tuesday morning, several coaches were running their athletes through formations on the field while also reminding them to stay at a distance and all-the-while working without a ball and pads.

“I know the coaches had stuff they wanted to put in this summer that we haven’t been able to,” said Peck. “They encouraged us to find ways to work on routes and skill development on our own, separate from what we’re doing here.”

Lance Scranton picked a heck of a year to start his head coaching debut.

“We haven’t been able to run any offense, defense or special teams,” he said. “So that leaves a lot still to be figure out once that happens.”

Scranton said he is working with Hepworth and Superintendent Scott Pankow on a plan to be able to at least run some drills where a ball is sanitized between each play and is alternated often, but it is an ongoing conversation.

After a month of small group workouts but no scrimmages, Maneotis said he and his coaching staff were actually relatively pleased with what they accomplished.

“We were just reflecting the other day and we think the individual-focused practices were very beneficial to our program,” he said.

The coaches offered three different sessions each day of practice with point guards, shooting guards and post players each having a time. Each player brought their own ball for the sessions. Maneotis said it felt a little like a “back-to-the-basics” effort with the hoopsters.

“It sounds cliche, but I feel like we took lemons and made lemonade,” he said. “Just to name a couple of things, kids developed their individual skills and without the camps, they and their families were able to save some money.”

Looking ahead

After a June announcement that basically stated most fall sports were in jeopardy of not happening, CHSAA redacted the prediction and said it would wait until closer to August to make any decisions. Until then, coaches are doing the best that they can with their allowed time with student-athletes, giving them direction for what they do outside of official practices.

Around Craig in the evening one can see basketball pick-up games, football route-running and soccer scrimmages happening amongst teenagers.

Coaches are also asking their peers around the state for best-practices in the new normal.

“It has been great to share information and get some ideas,” Scranton said. “It will hopefully ease restrictions as we scrimmage against Meeker on August 22 and open the season in Denver versus Northfield on the 29th of August.”

All of the coaches mentioned the value of keeping perspective for both their staff as well as the athletes.

Profumo summed it up: “Physically, we have lost team camps, skills camps and fundraisers but it really comes down to losing the ability to do something, in this case play volleyball, that brings you joy. As a coach, I truly believe the value of sport is so much deeper than wins and losses. But it is the losses that teach us the most. In this case, these losses have reminded me that to be successful you must adapt and find new strengths.”


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