Prep sports press pause as they learn to adapt to ‘change day to day’
Jamie Sheetz, Park City High School’s athletics and activities director, said prep sports in the time of COVID-19 has been a lesson in flexibility and adaptability.
“We’re writing a new story every day, that’s how we’re treating it,” he said. “The way things are going, we just don’t know what is going to change day to day.”
Case in point: Last week, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced new emergency measures to try to slow down the spread of the coronavirus in Utah, and among those orders was a two-week pause on extracurricular activities. Through Nov. 23, only fall sports playoff games will be held. No other athletics, including tryouts for winter sports, will take place.
“We’ll have the pause and then we’ll pick back up in a couple of weeks,” Sheetz said. “I think everyone is willing to give it a shot if it means getting us headed in the right direction.”
Sheetz said the pause didn’t affect any Miners fall sports, which had all completed their seasons. Winter sports tryouts will be delayed, however, and the swim team, which begins its season earlier than the rest, will have its season interrupted.
“They’re going to miss a meet or two, and the problem (with the timing) is that they’ll come back Thanksgiving week after two weeks off, have two days of doing stuff and then shut back down for four days for the holiday,” he said. “It’s weird, but I know it’s not easy. They’re trying to keep it simple for everyone. It really is such a mess.”
According to the Utah High School Activities Association, winter sports can begin Nov. 24, with the basketball and wrestling seasons starting in December.
“What they’ve done is erase a week or a week and a half from all the winter sports seasons, that’s all,” Sheetz said. “So in a couple of weeks we should be good to go. Everybody just wants to play, to be active and to keep life as close to normal as possible for these kids.”
The school year so far
Sheetz said looking back on the fall sports season, he is pleased with how well the coaches, players and community handled the changes.
“We had enough time to prep over the summer that I think all the coaches knew what they had to do. It just took some getting used to — COVID screening before every practice, every event — but once we did it was just the new routine.”
Sheetz said it helps that the athletes are so invested in keeping their seasons going.
“I think the kids are probably even more adaptable and flexible than the coaches,” he said. “I don’t know that they like all of this any better than we do, but they’re willing to put in their best efforts to make it work.
“No one wants to go back to where we were in March, April and May.”
The PCHS volleyball team did have to quarantine for two weeks about halfway through its season, and that’s one area where Sheetz said the school would have done things differently.
“If we had to do it over again, we probably would not let the freshman and JV teams hang around in the stands to watch the varsity team play,” he said. “You’ve got three levels of teams in the stands, we’re having to remind them to pull their masks up. If we could go back, having the younger players leave the gym after their games might have helped.”
The winter ahead
While most of the fall sports are played outdoors, all of the winter sports will be inside, and one of the biggest concerns around COVID-19 heading into the winter has been more people congregating indoors. Sheetz said he and the coaches share that concern and will keep attendance to 25% of capacity or perhaps even lower.
“I think in terms of mitigation, we might have only essential personnel for basketball games,” he said.
Regardless, family and friends will still be able to watch the games.
“We finally have our cameras installed, so people will be able to stream the basketball games and wrestling meets, for example,” he said. “That’s something we’d been wanting to do anyway, but COVID sort of fast-tracked that.”
‘Err on the side of caution’
Sheetz said the high school has been proactive when it’s gotten cases and cautious about ensuring student-athletes quarantine when necessary. He acknowledged that some in the community have said they are being too conservative but he rejects that idea.
“We have no idea what the long-term effects of this virus are,” he said. “We’ve only been studying this thing for what, 11 months? To not worry about kids getting it because (of the high survival rate) is just irresponsible. As an educator, I won’t do that. I don’t want to think about one of our athletes suffering lasting effects from this virus 20 years down the road because we weren’t careful.”
In fact, Sheetz said he can see leaning even further toward caution, as have some high school programs across the country, and even shutting down sports entirely.
“I can justify not doing anything at all right now,” he said. “You could make that argument.”
The reason, Sheetz said, is the upcoming holidays. He worries about a potential spike in cases and how the athletic department would deal with it.
“It’s going to be a trying time for us, this stretch from Thanksgiving to early January,” he said. “We’re going to find out a lot. There is going to be a lot of exposure, a lot of people wanting to see their families. We’re just going to have to put as many layers of mitigation in place as possible and try to continue to get back to normal.”
The bottom line is safety, Sheetz said, and that’s the message he and the coaches are trying to impress upon the student-athletes and the community at large.
“We’re just trying to stress to these kids how important it is to take the virus seriously,” he said. “Keep those masks on. Don’t go to friends’ houses and hang out during this two-week pause.
“We can’t keep kicking this thing down the road. The longer we do, the longer it’s going to take to come out the other side.”
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