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Uniontown native, University of Akron strength trainer working through program shutdowns

Staff Writer
The Suburbanite
Uniontown native Tim Campbell helps a University of Akron basketball player stretch before a game last season.

AKRON When the Mid-American Conference made the decision to postpone its fall sports season, becoming the first Division I major or mid-major conference to punt on having a football season along with its other fall sports, it was a move that rippled across the college sports landscape.

The decision, announced last week, resulted in thousands of student-athletes across the MAC's member schools – 12 primary members and a handful of others who are members for individual sports – means there will be no college football Saturdays this fall in places like Akron, Kent and Toledo.

It also means that those athletes now face an uncertain future, hoping their sport will be able to play in the spring, but knowing the COVID-19 pandemic may prevent that as well. In the meantime, strength and conditioning staffs like the one Uniontown native and former Lake football player Tim Campbell oversees at the University of Akron face the prospect of training athletes without knowing if or when they will be able to return to the field of play.

For now, athletes are able to work out, but when Coronavirus began its initial spread across America, that wasn't the case. Campus shut down and when it reopened, Campbell and his staff worked to catch up.

"The biggest challenge was not seeing the athletes and being able to coach (or) correct their progress," Campbell said. "We have to assume coming back that athletes have not done much and as much as we want to put foot on gas pedal we have to build them up all over again."

In the late spring and early summer, when the possibility of fall sports was still theoretically an option, athletes worked to get their bodies ready for games, meets and matches. Since many of them were at home and often without access to gyms or weight rooms, that left strength and conditioning staffs seeking other ways to work with those athletes.

Getting creative with fitness became a must, something Campbell and his staff did plenty of during that time.

"During the shutdown my staff and I would communicate daily with our respective athletes .... we would send bodyweight workouts and outdoor activities that don’t require equipment or a partner," Campbell said. "If an athlete would report they had equipment we would individually tailor a workout to the equipment they had."

Given the MAC's decision to postpone fall sports, the efforts of football, volleyball, soccer, cross country and golf athletes to get ready for games in August, September, October and November won't have the payoff they were expected to have. The questions now include whether winter sports – basketball, swimming and diving, wrestling and others – will similarly be pushed back, if postponed sports will be able to take place in the spring, what impact this could have on spring sports and whether all fall sports athletes will want to take part if their sport happens in the spring.

Football could be especially hard hit, as juniors and seniors with NFL aspirations could opt out of a possible spring season because it would clash with preparations for the NFL draft. Likewise, seniors set to graduate at the end of the fall semester would have to decide whether to stick around and take graduate classes so they could play.

In the weight rooms and training areas on the UA campus, protocols in place govern the activities of athletes who are working out. Instead of moving around freely as they might during workouts in the past, their activities are designed to keep them at a single work station throughout the session. Within each work station, there is no sharing of equipment between assigned pods, leaving it as essentially a weight rack, a barbell and weights.

"We now require every person in weight room to wear masks at all times, no exceptions," Campbell said. "All athletes are put into pods that only interact with their pod. Between lift groups the weight room is sprayed down with a Victory sprayer (and) we allow 30 minutes between every group to sanitize and allow to dry."

With the MAC's decision made and its effects beginning to filter out, any workouts taking place will occur in an uncertain landscape for college sports. Some UA coaches, such as men's soccer head coach Jared Embick, have expressed hope that their players will be able to continue working out in the weeks ahead, but all such decisions remain at the mercy of the pandemic and decisions made by state government and health officials, as well as the UA administration.