Through all the issues and concerns regarding COVID-19 and even with the limited availability to actually engage in athletic activity, there has emerged a silver lining.
Kids want to be out on the field.
That is the general sentiment expressed by several athletic directors in the Peninsula Athletic League, most who said the kids are literally excited to be out on the field — even if it is just for conditioning sessions.
“We’re out there for an hour. We work them for an hour and they’re leaving, saying,’ Thanks coach! Great workout!’ The kids are thanking us,” said John Philipopoulos, Burlingame athletic director and head varsity football coach.
“That feels good.”
California high schools are currently in a second session of what many refer to as “summer conditioning.” Schools had those sessions during the traditional summer period, but when the California Interscholastic Federation decided to push the start of the 2020-21 season to January, schools were given a second period of conditioning beginning last month as teams begin to ramp up for an official December start date to practice.
It is during this second condition session that coaches and athletic directors have seen an uptick not only in the kids participating, but an increase of kids who want to get out and run around. James Madison, Hillsdale AD and varsity baseball manager, believes that many parents and athletes, especially those in their freshman year, are afraid they may miss out on something.
“You don’t want to fall through the cracks,” Madison said. “I think the time and uncertainty are adding a level of urgency to all athletes and parents. … Parents want their kids to be involved so I don’t think they want their athlete to miss out.”
Many schools are experiencing such a surge of interest that administrators are having trouble accommodating everyone. The safety protocols say athletes must work in cohorts of up to 14 kids per coach and sometime there are not enough coaches to go around.
“I’m thrilled to have this many kids want to join. … (But) we have more who want to join our conditioning pods than we can accommodate,” said Melissa Schmidt, AD and girls’ soccer coach at Sequoia. “We’re getting creative with multiple sessions.”
Jeff Scheller, San Mateo AD and football coach, said most available space on the San Mateo campus is being used every day and so far things have been working out. He said the turnout for the junior varsity football conditioning sessions, alone, are roughly twice the size as normal.
“Last year, we started with 19 (players),” Scheller said. “This year, consistently, we have 35 to 40 who are showing up.”
Since schools and teams are still allowed only minimal use of shared equipment and not allowed physical contact, Aragon AD Steve Sell said all his programs are working with the school’s strength and conditioning coach, Michael Wu, who also serves as the offensive line coach for the football team. Woo has all athletes — regardless of sport or gender — using the same workout plan and Sell believes it can pay off down the line.
In the past, Sell said, many coaches were more interested in focusing on their sport exclusively. But now, many are starting to see the benefits of having athletes work on their fitness and strength, with the hope that they will be the better team when it comes down to crunch time and keep them healthier throughout the season.
“The reason we have so many kids (participating) is because of our strength and conditioning coach. … It’s a program-wide strength program, so it’s great to see,” Sell said. “It takes a lot for a coach to let go and let someone else train their athletes. … I’m really proud of how [the conditioning program] is now permeating throughout the entire athletic program (at Aragon). There were so many sports that rarely did any kind of strength training.”
Frank Rodriguez, AD at Sacred Heart Prep, said his program has seen a slight dip in participation, attributing it to club sports. He said his school is trying to limit the amount of contact players have with others not in their cohort group. Rodriguez said they have asked families to choose one or the other with which to train and remain with that group.
“The last thing we want is to put anyone at risk,” Rodriguez said. “We want the the kids to participate safely.”
As much as these training sessions are for an athletes’ bodies, these coaches and administrators are finding that the activity is good for the soul as well. The ADs commented on how there is a certain energy and buzz from the athletes who are returning to campus for the first time in six or seven months and the joy they see among the student-athletes.
“On any given day, we have 100-plus kids on campus doing sports activities and it’s awesome,” Scheller said. “Kids are laughing. Talking to each other. They need it.”
Said Madison: “ This is social as much as anything else.”
Added Schmidt: “I love it. I love seeing that kids are willing to come out. We’re not playing soccer and they’re out there running around.”
And sometimes, when the conditions are just right, it can seem everything is right in the world again.
“Being out there last week, the football is out there. The cheerleaders are over on the blacktop (behind the uprights). Water polo is in the pool, swimming,” said Philipopoulos. “The sun was out. It was a beautiful day. It felt like a normal day. Those, to me, are just little wins.”