When it comes to high school football, things are back. Just not back to normal.
On June 15, Osceola County permitted students to return to campus for voluntary workouts with conditions attached. It marked the first time in three months that students have been allowed on school property since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down campuses in March.
“The county has permitted us to start a six-week return to practice, which is totally voluntary,” St. Cloud High School Athletic Director Eric Godfrey said. “It’s a six week period, where the first two weeks are 90-minute maximum sessions with no sports specific equipment allowed and it’s at a 50 percent exertion effort. It’s basically conditioning. In the third week, we can start using some sports specific equipment but there will be no contact. We are closely monitoring conditions and are complying with social distancing guidelines to protect our student-athletes.”
Godrey noted that the program was designed to get athletes ready for July 27, the date when regular fall practices are scheduled to start in Florida.
“The main thing I want to emphasize is we are doing everything possible to minimize risk. The health of our kids is the most important thing,” Godfrey said.
For St. Cloud Head Football Coach Bryan Smart, the return to volunteer workouts is welcome, but certainly far from normal. Last week, Smart said about 60 football players have reported for the workouts but the loss of spring practice and restrictions in place have been tough.
“As far as the loss of spring practices, it was tough but we know it’s been tough on all the schools. We’re all in the same boat. I think the hardest thing right now is the uncertainty of everything. They are telling us that regular fall practice can start next month and everything is on schedule for the start of a regular season. But we also know that could change at a drop of the hat,” Smart said.
On the bright side, Smart said he was thankful that the athletes were allowed back on campus.
“The main thing is that it was great to see the kids again,” Smart said. “As coaches, we were used to seeing our kids every day in school and we certainly missed that in the spring.”
He added that he was extremely pleased to note that the majority of his players appeared to have been working out on their own during the spring and early summer. “We emailed them workout plans and had zoom sessions with them and I have been in awe with what I have seen so far,” Smart said. “Most of our players appear to be shape and are ready to go. We’re going to field a team with a lot of seniors this year so I think that maturity helped us, as they realized the importance of working out and staying in shape.”
Still, the uncertainty of what the future holds has cast a pall on the proceedings as area teams get ready.
“My heart bled for the senior baseball and softball players and actually for all other spring sports seniors. It had to be tough on all the athletes, but to lose your final high school season to something like a pandemic had to be gut-wrenching. And the uncertainty of the future still exists,” Smart added. “Right now, everything is an unknown as to whether the season is going to start on time, whether fans and parents will be able to watch the games and even whether the season is going to happen at all. About the only thing any of us can do is prepare like everything will be okay and hope we can play this fall. I think we all need and want sports.”
County notes: Osceola High School assistant coach Eric Pinellas says Kowboy players participated in voluntary workouts four times last week and “things went great.”
Gateway head coach Marlin Roberts noted the Panthers started volunteer workouts this week.
St. Cloud volleyball coach Ettie Singleton reported that Tyler Souza has signed a letter-of-intent to play softball at Limestone College.
Celebration Head Coach Jay Skobe said a limited number of athletes competed in volunteer workouts last week as many were still working on the required physicals and paper work required before they can participate. He added that the numbers have been growing on a daily basis and described the workouts as “enthusiastic.”
Coach Marc Deas said 57 players showed up for the first day of voluntary workouts and he was “exhilarated” with both the numbers and enthusiasm shown by the athletes.
“Our coaches have been eager to see our kids since the pandemic started,” Deas said. “The enthusiasm they came back with was off the charts. We’re really excited about starting our preparations for our third season as we continue to build our program.”
Head Coach Don Simon said upward of 70 players reported for voluntary workouts last week and noted, “they truly were excited to be there and spirits were high.”
Liberty head coach Brandon Pennington reported 20 to 25 players were showing up for the workouts.
Photo Caption: Using social distancing guidelines, the St. Cloud football team hit the weight room in small groups during workout sessions. (Photo courtesy Bryan Smart/St. Cloud Football)