A so-called return to normal has been anything but for Ashley Herman and her teammates.
While the Kern High School District is still waiting to determine a time when local athletes can once again conduct team workouts, private institutions Bakersfield Christian and Garces Memorial High Schools opened their doors to accommodate select teams this week.
High school sports have been on hold since March, when the CIF canceled the remainder of the winter and spring seasons due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Starting Monday, the Rams began holding workouts for their football, boys basketball, boys and girls water polo, and girls tennis teams. Girls basketball and girls golf set to start next week.
Across town, the Eagles have allowed their volleyball, boys and girls basketball and cheer squads to workout on campus. But even as teammates have been allowed to convene in public for the first time in months, circumstances have been far from ordinary.
Before starting a workout, athletes report to a trainer, who takes their temperature and provides them with a questionnaire of yes or no questions regarding their health. If their temperature is too high or they answer yes to any of the questions, they aren't allowed to participate.
Once cleared, they either proceed to individual workouts or break into groups for conditioning drills, where they are required to stay six feet apart from each other.
Participants aren't allowed to enter the locker room or weight room. If a ball can be used, a player has to bring it from home and cannot share it with a teammate.
Such limitations have created a whole new world for the likes of Herman, a junior outside hitter on the BCHS volleyball team. Unable to use a ball, the Eagles spent their first week back on the football field, doing calisthenic and endurance exercises, a far cry from a typical summer workout.
“We’re not used to this," Herman said. "We’re used to being in the gym, being able to high-five each other and stuff. Being able to adjust but still being able to come out is nice because we’re still able to do something. But still, it’s difficult.”
Even in less-than-ideal circumstances, coaches and administrators have expressed gratitude about having any opportunity to bring their teams back together.
"We're trying to make it so kids can be kids again, at least for 45 minutes to an hour," BCHS Athletic Director Blake Van Der Schaaf said.
Having spent months apart, only able to hold workouts and meetings digitally, Eagle volleyball coach Matt Touchstone said the last week has also proven valuable from a conditioning standpoint.
"It's big for them to get out here because a lot of them are out of shape," Touchstone said. "A lot of them haven't done anything for awhile. They haven't been able to. Them just getting back into shape is a positive thing."
At a Thursday practice, complying with state-mandated rules was a major sticking point for Garces football coaches, many of whom were quick to shout out commands of "six feet apart" whenever they saw players standing too close to one another.
"They understand we are in a very fortunate situation to be able to be back on campus," Garces Assistant Athletic Director Trevor Horn said. "They understand that comes with a price and a sense of understanding to do things the right way, because one misstep and this can all go away."
As preparations continue, there remains a palpable sense of unease for players and coaches throughout the county, who are nervously awaiting the fate of their seasons. The CIF will determine on July 20 whether or not fall sports will be able to start on time.
Though happy to have taken a first step, athletes hope much greater progress will be coming in short order.
“We just want everything to go back to normal as soon as we can," Herman said.