It may not seem like much of a milestone, but when a handful of student-athletes arrive on Kern High School District campuses Wednesday afternoon, it will represent a monumental step toward possibly returning to action for the 2020-21 season.
It might be a baby step, but a step nonetheless.
It’s been more than six months since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the spring sports season and ultimately the postponement of fall sports until early 2021.
On the heels of the KHSD’s decision to allow athletes to return to campuses for conditioning this week, Centennial, Stockdale and Frontier have given their football, volleyball and cross country teams the green light to schedule practices starting Wednesday.
Most of the remaining district schools are planning to return Monday, after first-quarter grades are released. Area pools are slated to open for water polo teams on Nov. 9.
“I don’t know how normal it’s going to be,” said Chris Bandy, who is entering his fourth year as Frontier’s football coach. “It’s a whole lot different than usual. But at least we get to be around the kids and kids get to be around each other.”
He has scheduled a workout for 5 p.m. Wednesday, and there doesn’t figure to be a football in sight.
“We’re just getting out there in groups of 25 with coaches and kids, and we’re just doing conditioning stuff, no footballs, no pads, no contact,” Bandy said. “Kids and coaches are wearing masks, all the safety stuff … to make sure we do have a season. So we have to be really careful as coaches and players to follow all the guidelines. I think that’s the important thing.”
With no access to the weight room, Bandy has planned a practice more typically designed for the summer. But with all football-related workouts canceled for the past several months, he now has to look to make up for lost time.
“We’re outside, we’re doing some plyometric-type stuff, some strength, agility training, a lot of leg strengthening, quickness and agility drills, a lot of core work that we can do without weights and stuff like that,” Bandy said. “So it’s kind of more like CrossFit type stuff.”
Bandy is also interested in seeing the development of some of his younger players, and is eager to start preparing them for the season. He’s also curious what kind of shape his players will be in.
“It’s going to be weird because usually I’m on campus and I see these kids every day,” Bandy said. “And I haven’t seen some of these kids in months. I’ve seen their faces on Zoom and talked to them, but I don’t know who is in good shape and who’s going to be ready. But we’re going to find out really quick tomorrow who’s in shape because we’re not going to take it easy on them by any means.”
Stockdale volleyball coach Maria Collatz is also planning a more basic workout, staggering the start of her 3:30 p.m. practice, with her players arriving in 15-minute intervals on the outside basketball court adjacent to the gym. From there, the players will be assigned to work with a specific Mustang coach in one of three stations, each designed to improve footwork, increase speed and quickness, and another for overall conditioning.
“We’re going to do a little bit of everything, I think,” Collatz said. "We’re going to work on conditioning, but we’re also going to have to teach some of these people approaches to the net, how to get off the net, defensive stance, all those types of things. So one of those will be very volleyball specific. We’re going to meet three days a week until things move forward and we can start with balls and stuff. And then that will be different.”
Although conditioning is obviously important, Collatz is initially expecting to spend a large portion of her time reminding her team to adhere to safety protocols.
“Honestly, we’re just trying to get past the first couple of times where we’re going to have to talk to them about staying 6 feet apart and taking turns and not high-fiving,” Collatz said. “It’s the exact opposite of the camaraderie that we normally teach. I’m not anticipating much from the first practice. I’m anticipating having to teach them what we have to do now.”
Collatz is also interested in checking in with her players on a personal level. She has prepared a checklist for each athlete.
“Honestly, some of it too is just going to be mentally, like, ‘How are you? How have you been?’ because this is a really weird start to the season, and for some, to their high school careers,” Collatz said. “So we’re going to check in with these kids and see how they’ve been. I mean I’ve talked to the girls and we’ve met on Zoom. We do talk, but it’s just different than when you’re in person and you can see facial expressions. I mean, ‘how are you really? Let me see your face and let’s talk.’”
Collatz said she will also have to fight off her instincts when it comes to showing her affection to her returning players.
“It’s going to be fun to be able to see them, but I’m not going to lie, the hardest thing is going to be, and my kids will all laugh at this, but it’s true … I can’t just open my arms and give them a big old hug because I haven’t seen them for so long,” Collatz said. “Because that’s usually how I roll, and it’s going to be so hard for me.
“So it’s a little different, but you know what, any steps in the right direction make me happy. So I’m just thankful these kids are going to be able to be on campus and have a little bit of normalcy and see the light at the end of the tunnel.”