The path back to Friday Night Lights continues as the calendar turns to July. At Talawanda High School, Football Coach Larry Cox and his coaching staff have been following the protocols promoted by that COVID-19 pandemic that were put in place by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
On June 1, the football team and the rest of the fall sports teams began conditioning and lifting sessions while socially distancing and working out in groups of 10 or less at the high school. Athletes had their temperature taken before entering the facility and if they reported 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, they were sent home.
Although many of the players have been working out at home, getting the overall team fitness level up is the first step in returning to play after completing the spring semester virtually.
“It’s a process, because if you rush back too fast, you have greater risk for injury,” Cox said. “You want to make sure you do things just right.”
In the next few weeks, the football team will begin conducting more football-specific practices. With COVID-19 numbers on the rise, the OHSAA member schools are still conducting business under the three phase restart guidelines.
“On top of everything else, you’ve got to think of everything from the aspect of social distancing, sanitizing, keeping the kids in a safe, healthy and clean environment,” Cox said. “There’s a lot of thought that goes into everything.”
While there are health risks that come along with playing sports during a pandemic, there are benefits as well, said Talawanda Athletic Booster President and Assistant Football Coach Brad Hoblitzell.
“For me, there’s this real duality of keeping kids safe and keeping their families safe and also realizing there is a great bit of health in being involved and being active that athletics and extracurriculars can provide,” Hoblitzell said. “It’s been difficult for kids, probably more difficult than a lot of us realized, with them being out of school, there’s a mental health part of that that’s important.”
When Talawanda began all sports training June 1, athletes from all sports including volleyball, cross country, field hockey, soccer and lacrosse have seen a high number of athletes show up for training. Hoblitzell has twins, who are sophomore student-athletes at Talawanda, and they’ve enjoyed getting back out there with their teammates and friends so far this summer.
“They were chomping at the bit, even all of spring, they continued working out,” Hoblitzell said about his son and daughter, who are on the track and field team at Talawanda. “We marked on the calendar all of the meets for track and would say ‘oh today would be the Edgewood meet, let’s go out and throw or let’s go out and run and see where we’re at.’ We were just trying to keep that sense of training going. They’ve been excited to get back to training and be around their friends and be together. That’s been a real positive thing.”
As for the fall football season, it’s on schedule to start with a home game against Monroe, Friday, Aug. 28.
“What has been communicated to us is that we’re on a normal time frame at this point,” Cox said. “We’re going to do what we normally do until we can’t do what we normally do, then we’ll make that decision.”
The circumstances might be constantly evolving but what stays constant is the culture that Cox said he is aiming to create at Talawanda. Last season, his first at Talawanda, the Brave finished 7-3, an improvement from when the team finished 2-8 in 2018.
“I don’t get caught up too much in winning and losing. More than anything I talk about creating a culture, a consistent culture,” Cox said. “We talk about the culture of successful programs, hard work. Can we come in and work hard and become the best we possibly can? Can we create a family kind of atmosphere, a team that is very tight, where there is a chemistry and teammates and coaches care about each other? Can we come in and compete each and every day? If we’ve got those three things going for us, the rest takes care of itself.”
As of now, Talawanda High School is preparing to begin the school year in-person Aug. 19.