WESTFIELD, NJ — Football practices without footballs, soccer practices without shooting drills and regular questionnaires about COVID-19 will be part of the game as Westfield High School athletes start summer practices this week.
In keeping with return-to-play guidelines from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, Westfield High School athletics are set to resume in-person activity on a limited basis beginning on Monday. It marks the start of Phase 1 of New Jersey’s four-step plan to resume high school athletics, with a watchful eye toward the 2020-21 academic year.
“Now more than ever, people want to get back in the swing of things,” said Westfield High School Athletic Director Sandra Mamary. “If a coach wants to have a workout with their team, and they follow the whole process, then we’re going to let that happen.”
Phase 1, termed the Summer Recess Period, will primarily consist of conditioning workouts, small group activities and other sport-specific instruction. All practices must take place in outdoor settings and last no more than 90 minutes. Contact and scrimmages are not yet permitted.
Priority in the preliminary stages of the restart will be given to fall sports, including football, boys and girls soccer, field hockey and volleyball, Mamary said. Participation among athletes will not be mandatory.
“We’re all just going to do the best we can,” Mamary said. “The most important thing is that people use common sense.”
That starts with closely abiding by the health and safety protocol given by the NJSIAA. Athletes must first complete and submit a COVID-19 questionnaire a week before their first scheduled workout. Once regular workouts commence, athletes will be subjected to daily temperature checks and additional COVID-19 questionnaires.
Only athletes who satisfy all the required criteria will be eligible to take part in workouts.
“Communication is vital to all of this,” said head football coach Jim DeSarno. “There’s an expectation and a hope that the kids are all honest. If they don’t feel well, they stay home. If a player is more worried about their standing with the team and they get other kids sick, that’s not going to help the team. It’s going to hurt the team.”
In a typical year, Monday would mark the sixth week of the football team’s 10-week-long summer training program. Now, it will bring the team’s first practice, with socially distanced activities and no actual footballs.
“This is not something we want to jump in and attack,” DeSarno said. “This stuff scares me to death. We’re going to take it slow and just make sure we’re doing it right. The health and safety of the kids is most important.”
Westfield head girls’ soccer coach Alexander Schmidt is likewise approaching the coming practices with caution. Schmidt plans on partitioning his athletes off by grade, assigning each grade a one-hour practice time slot.
The practices will be a far cry from the usual, absent of shooting and possession drills. Players will bring their own soccer balls, no one will wear pinnies and only coaches will touch the equipment, among other precautions.
“We want everyone to feel as comfortable as possible,” Schmidt said. “Parents, kids and coaches.”
To familiarize himself with the restrictions, Schmidt recently completed a 40-minute online session designed to instruct coaches on the state-mandated protocol. All coaches scheduled to oversee a workout during the summer recess period were advised to do so.
Mamary and DeSarno both expressed trepidation of the asymptomatic athlete — the player cleared to practice while unknowingly carrying COVID-19, the virus’ presence undetected by temperature checks and background screenings.
“That’s what worries me, the students who don’t have symptoms, and they have the virus,” Mamary said. “Because if you take a group that you’re working with, and one of the kids in that group becomes positive, then you’re looking at shutting it all down.”
So they can continue with athletics, coaches plan to keep close to the guidelines.
“We want to be able to progress to Phase 2 and Phase 3,” Schmidt said. “That means we have to do Phase 1 by following all the rules as strictly as possible. Because we want to make sure whatever the guidelines may be in September and October, that we’ll be there playing.”
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