LIVINGSTON, NJ — The official closure of all state schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year has impacted every sports program in New Jersey, including the Livingston High School (LHS) track team.
Not being about to run any of the meets on their schedule this spring has not stopped the Lancers from staying active, however, as head coach Dave Czeizinger remains determined to keep his teammates in shape despite the lockdown and the official cancellation of the season.
"To try to stay active, you've got to be creative," said Czeizinger. "Our baseball team participated in a virtual tournament; our golf team did something similar. We did a virtual intrasquad meet."
Because of the nature of many track and field events, the sport lends itself to more flexibility when it comes to devising makeshift ways to maintain some activity than team sports like baseball and lacrosse in the spring.
"We set it up on athletic.net," said Czeizinger. "You record your performances: For the shorter distances, for sprinters we marked a few places in town that were 100 and 200 meters, we left chalk marks on the streets, and the kids had to have a witness make a video recording of it. They would call out a start command, videotape the athlete completing the run, with the time generally on their phone that was shown and recorded at end of the run."
For distance events, like the 800-and 1600-meter races, Czeizinger said the simulations "allowed GPS verification on the phones to see that athlete ran that distance in that time."
Field events were not as easy, he added, stating that Livingston's shot putters and pole vaulters "have suffered the most."
Moving into the spring, however, Czeizinger said the upcoming "'L'-ympics will involve more fun events."
"The captains are coming up with them to have some team bonding," said Czeizinger. "Then we will have one more intrasquad meet toward end of the school year. We’ve used Zoom meetings once or twice a week for some training, as well as Google Classroom and the Remind app."
Overall, Czeizinger said this new platform is "a whole different world" and that "all the coaches continue to put out daily workouts."
"Replicating distance workouts is a little tougher," he said. "I might want them to run intervals between 200 and 1200, and I give them paces to run them at. We’ve come up with mechanisms to try to simulate it. It's kind of difficult because everywhere is closed in terms of facilities."
The coach also recognized that the shutdown has been particularly difficult for seniors, noting that it has been "a devastating loss" for students all over the country
"The exhilaration as you cross the finish line at the MOC, or maybe a dual meet; letting that javelin fly and watching its airborne path; landing in the sand after a nice jump; or maybe clearing the bar at your goal height—not to be for this 2020 campaign," said Czeizinger. "So many lost memories: practices, team meetings, competitions, team dinners, personal bests, the camaraderie and more. This has become the reality for athletes."
He added that the cancellation of the season has "brought to the forefront some life lessons" that the athletes have likely heard but that may not have sunk in until now.
"The first one to come to mind is 'never take things for granted,'" he said. "In my group, two kids—Shannon O’Connor and Philmon Mehari—have been with me all 12 seasons all four years; but so many other kids have put in several seasons. We try to keep things in perspective and talk to them about trying to stay motivated. I put out motivational quotes for them every day and I ask for a lot of feedback. We have a text chat group, and we talk every day."
Czeizinger also acknowledged that the underclassmen are "losing developmental time, losing some of their mentors and losing some of the opportunities to draw the attention of college recruiters."
"We never know when something will be the last chance, last time, so seize the opportunity when it presents itself," he said. "Some of the athletes I have worked with all three seasons for all four years, and might not even get to say goodbye in person. It is heart-wrenching. And for them also, as for many, this was such an integral part of their high school experience.
"We generally focus on the lost season of the seniors, their expectations of that final season, getting to finish out their careers, missing out on opportunities to reach those ultimate goals they had, breaking a school record, winning a championship, qualifying to move up in the state tournament or maybe simply setting a personal best, competing in a new event or reaching a level of fitness that they never realized they could."
Czeizinger emphasized that in order to make the most of each day, one has to do something he or she loves, and encouraged all Lancers to continue to do so.