GREEN What's in like to prepare for a season that may or may not happen?
That's a question that Green football coach Mark Geis and his Bulldogs are answering over the course of a COVID-19-influenced summer.
Geis, entering his second season at the helm for Green, learned in early June that the state of Ohio and the school district would allow the team to resume training with strict health and safety protocols in place.
"Since being released by our school district and Gov. (Mike) DeWine in early June, we have been conducting our strength and conditioning sessions four days a week at 7 a.m. During phase one of our reopening we did not enter the weight room," Geis said. "This lasted two weeks and consisted of a heavy focus on core strength, body weight exercises and conditioning."
Geis, whose team went 2-8 in his first season, carried out that first phase of training in pods consisting of nine players and one coach to adhere to guidelines mandating groups of 10 or less for activities.
The nine pods al met in different locations, allowing for as safe of spacing and safe training conditions as possible. That required plenty of logistical work for all involved and patience in working out any kinks in the plan.
When the Bulldogs moved to their second phase of their training, the pods transitioned to speed and agility work, weight room sessions and conditioning.
The third phase began in late June and included more indoor work, with lifting four days a week along with conditioning and core strengthening exercises.
Given the reduced ability to train in the spring, Geis admitted that early on, players weren't at their usual level when they came back to training.
For some players, the cancellation of spring sports – which help them stay in shape – was part of the process.
Even now, as they try to catch up on their fitness, it seems likely that not having a full offseason of training could affect play on the field should the season happened at scheduled this fall.
Many in the sports world have wondered if injuries will happen more in the seasons ahead for various sports because of the disruptions to training.
"Strength wise, we are still working to regain what some of our guys have lost throughout quarantine," Geis said. "This is going to be a long term problem that we will be working to fix. There is no doubt that we will be paying even more attention to our strength throughout preseason and regular season."
The veteran coach admitted that preparing for a season that could be canceled or altered at any point as the world continues to battle the pandemic and its widespread effects is challenging, but staying safe while working within the parameters of what they're allowed to do is the focus for the Bulldogs.
"If we want to have a season, we have to show our state that our coaches and football programs are committed to following all protocols," he said. "We do not know what the next two months holds for us as a football program. We are simply working as hard as we can and preaching constantly to control what we can control and staying positive."
Even being back together in small groups has been a morale boost, Geis said, for players and coaches after weeks of Zoom meetings and phone calls.
Another aspect of the situation that football must face is the reality that some sports are safer than others in terms of players not being in extremely close proximity to one another in the course of competition.
Golf, for example, makes it much easier for athletes to stay a socially safe distance apart. Football doesn't have that luxury as nearly every player is face to face with at least one opposing player on every snap.
Questions about how to make the sport as safe as possible in the midst of the pandemic have stretched across the youth, high school, college and professional levels and so far, there have been few answers.
Beyond the field, the health hazards of large gatherings have raised the possibility that some sports that return could be played without fans.
That would be especially jarring for football, which draws the largest crowds of any high school sport. Friday nights are a centerpiece for many communities during football season and having the stands empty or at a drastically reduced capacity would definitely alter the vibe at stadiums across the country.
According to Geis, conversations with athletes and parents have covered a range of topics related to the pandemic. He believes there is trust in the coaching staff and administration to keep athletes safe, but also knows how tough of a task that is.
"There is no such thing as a minor detail in our workouts. Everything from how we arrive to workouts, rotate groups, and socially distance ourselves is planned out," Geis said.
Among the precautions are players arriving for workouts in two different locations and first checking in with trainers. There, they undergo a health screening and have their temperatures taken.
During workouts, players maintain a six-foot distance from one another. Coaches have been wearing masks since the return to training and when in the weight room, racks, weights and bars are disinfected between each rotation and group.
Similar to one-way aisles at grocery stores, each space used for workouts and lifting has separate entrances and exits to ensure players from different pods don't come into contact with one other when transitioning from one area to another. They also bring their own jug of water for the day to further bolster safety.
Even with so many precautions and rules, there is no guarantee when it comes to the season ahead being played. Green, like every other area team and those across the state, can only work out, try to stay safe and wait for word from the Ohio High School Athletic Association and state leaders on the fate of the fall campaign.