JACKSON TWP. Like tens of thousands of spring sports coaches across America, Bill Gamble is trying to navigate a situation he could never have imagined, one for which there is no page in a coach's handbook.
For the past month and for at least the remainder of this month, spring sports are in wait-and-see mode as the federal, state and local governments deal with the COVID-19 global pandemic and decide what rules, restrictions and policies are needed to battle the crisis. Federal and state officials have already announced that social distancing policies and other rules preventing large gatherings and public events will remain in place through at least the end of of April, meaning Gamble and his Jackson baseball team are in a holding pattern.
"That's been a hard thing because there's no real plan for this, no road map for this," Gamble said. "We tried to give them sort of an extended spring break plan, and (assistant) coach D-Rod (Dan Rodriguez) set up a throwing plan and things they can do on their own, or in small groups of four."
Those plans have centered on strength and conditioning, as the primary challenge for players has been finding a place do to their work. Because the school and its facilities are closed, as are parks in the area, it depends on what sort of space and equipment a player has at home.
"Some guys have access to a home gym and some don't ... some have access to a cage, and some can hit off a tee in their basement," Gamble said. "So access to facilities has been tough."
To mitigate those disadvantages, the team has made use of technology as much as possible. That includes group texts, staying in touch through social media and like so many teams, businesses and organizations, made use of video meetings as a way to connect when being in the same place isn't possible.
Weekly meetings using Zoom have become the norm, with Gamble breaking the team up into smaller groups and holding meetings to check in with players and see how they're doing. Some of the conversation is about baseball, but part of the talk is about things away from the diamond.
It's an issue Gamble sees not only with his players, but with students from his classes as he stays in touch with them using the online learning tools the district has in place to continue the educational process while the school itself remains closed.
"We're checking in on them especially with mental health and how they're doing, what they can and can't get done," Gamble said. "The biggest thing for all of the students, the biggest hurdle and the challenge I'm seeing students from my classroom when they turned in their journal entries is just being alone, not being with friends ... it's tough to not be able interact because we all need that in daily society just as people."
As a father of four, Gamble and his family are navigating those challenges as well and given the idea that the program has won championships by building on the relationships within the program, having those relationships tested by the lack of face-to-face interaction has been difficult.
The idea to "be elite in the things we can" is the central message in approaching baseball at the moment for the Polar Bears and while they don't know for sure if they will be able to play this season in any form, Gamble noted that the Ohio High School Athletic Association has done everything it can to push back the start of the campaign and postpone rather than cancel.
School will take the lead, as sports can't happen without schools being open, so for Jackson baseball and all of the district's other teams, the Catch-22 is staying sharp and ready despite a lack of access to facilities and teammates while knowing that there is no guarantee the season for which they're staying ready may or may not happen.
It's a cruel irony for all involved, but for one group in particular.
"I don't even know if I have the right words for all of the seniors in all of the sports ... weather-wise it's been a fantastic spring and softball, lacrosse, track ... all of us aren't able to get out and take advantage of that," Gamble said. "You try to stay in the moment and handle what's in front of us."
Hours earlier, in a Zoom meeting with one group of players, he spoke to them about getting outside and doing their sprint and distance work so they can be in top-notch shape if and when the season begins. If the season does happen, it's safe to say it would be a healing experience for all involved after a trying time. If it doesn't happen, then players and coaches will find themselves wondering what might have been and having another round of difficult conversations with one another.