Chambersburg

Athletes learning new rules as teams return to practice

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Chambersburg assistant girls volleyball coach Bobby Culler, left, checks the temperature of Rachael Meyers before a recent open gym at the CASHS Field House. Teammate Robyn Stepler is in the background (photo by Kellen Stepler).

By KELLEN STEPLER
For TheSportsPage.blog

Before Rachael Meyers attends her volleyball open gym at Chambersburg, she has to stop at the gymnasium entrance, get her temperature taken, sign a waiver, get screened and is asked if she has any symptoms of COVID-19.

All while wearing a mask, of course.

It is part of the new guidelines for the return to high school sports in Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, June 10, Gov. Tom Wolf gave the go-ahead to resume athletic activities, ending over a hiatus of over 90 days.

Thus, school districts across the Commonwealth were tasked with their own decision to reopen sports and set detailed protocols for their district’s teams.

“It’s beneficial to get back in the gym – it returns some normalcy,” Meyers said.

Typically, high school girls’ volleyball occurs in the fall, and players continue to play club volleyball through the winter and spring. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Meyers and some of her Trojan teammates could only participate in two tournaments.

“It was a lost club season,” Meyers, a senior middle hitter, said. “We lost four months – not seeing everyone during club, we lost a little bit of team chemistry. That’s why getting back into the gym was beneficial, we were able to get back into the swing of things.”

Cleaning volleyballs between drills, substituting a new ball each play during scrimmages and separating gym bags are all part of the Trojans’ new normal.

“It’s taught you to not take anything for granted – you’ve got to give it your all,” Meyers said.

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It’s like breaking a habit for Shippensburg football coach Eric Foust.

Foust, who has guided the Greyhound football team for 20 years, had to revamp typical summer workouts.

Before athletes and coaches enter the facility, temperatures must be taken, they are asked if they have symptoms, and permission slips must be signed. Foust said that on the field, he tries to keep athletes in pods and groups of fewer than 25, and they wear masks when in close contact.

Before in-person workouts could begin, the team stayed connected using Zoom meetings and a Google Classroom to share information.

Shippensburg, Foust said, set clear and concise guidelines to a quick and safe return to sports.

“The school did a good job of getting a plan quick,” Foust said. “We believe we’ve been careful (during workouts.) Their health is of upmost importance.”

The in-person workouts obviously benefit student-athletes’ physical health, but Foust also noted the social and mental health benefits of workouts in a group setting.

“Student athletes need to get out and be with their classmates,” Foust said. “As coaches, we’re cognizant of their social and mental health. We all have their best interests at heart.”

In light of the cancelled spring sports season, Foust recognizes the difficulty and concerns of the upcoming football season.

“It gives more bearing to playing every season as if it’s your last,” Foust said. “There’s a fierce urgency of now and making the most of it.”

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“The biggest challenge might be remembering to do everything before the workout,” said Greencastle-Antrim girls’ soccer player Sayge Wilhide.

Like Meyers and Foust, her team’s pre-practice routine is similar: filling out a symptom form, temperature checks and wearing masks.

The team does drills and lifting workouts in small groups, Wilhide said. She explained that even with the different procedures, in-person workouts are instrumental to creating team chemistry.

“We get to bond more, and build connections with the incoming freshmen,” Wilhide said. “I tried to do some small workouts at home (during the quarantine,) but it’s hard to do soccer by yourself.”

Despite the new rules, Wilhide said the in-person workouts are “going well.”

“I’m excited for the season,” Wilhide said.

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Although Southern Fulton’s cross country team will not start in-person summer workouts until Wednesday, there have already been some challenges coach Joe Hollenshead has had to face because of COVID-19 cancelations.

“We didn’t get a chance to recruit distance runners; we didn’t have an end to the track season for some athletes to try distance running,” Hollenshead said.

The team will be able to spread out and socially distance during practice runs, but will not be able to do their three-day-a-week summer weight program. The pre-practice routine won’t change over county lines: Hollenshead will be tasked with doing temperature checks, keeping a chart of athletes’ symptoms and sanitizing materials that are used.

“I jokingly asked (SF athletic director Kent Hendershot,) what will the starting line at meets look like?” Hollenshead said. “There’s a lot of minor questions.”

The big thing, Hollenshead said, is stressing to the athletes the strict regulations and rules Southern Fulton has in place. Currently, there are only 18 recorded cases of coronavirus in Fulton County.

“I’m telling them that if they’re sick, stay home,” Hollenshead said.

He has been communicating with runners through text messages; relaying updates and information as it rapidly changes.

“I hope we can do (the season),” Hollenshead said. “The athletes need social interaction.”