Under normal circumstances, fall sports at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School run under set schedules from the beginning of the school year until November. However, this year MSD sports have not been able to progress in the way that they are used to, due to COVID-19.
During this fall season, all staff members and student athletes are required to take extra precautions to prevent sports participants from contracting COVID-19 at events. The Broward County Athletic Association has established guidelines to be followed by Broward County Public Schools including three sets of phases to maintain social distance protocols.
Phase 1 and 2 mainly consisted of outdoor conditioning without the use of equipment provided by the school, as well as the prohibition of sport-specific drills. These two phases covered the dates of Sept. 21 to Oct. 9. The final phase, Phase 3, began on Oct. 12 and consists of the start of regular sports practice.
Throughout each phase, students’ heartbeat, blood pressure, vision, etc. have been and continue to be monitored to identify abnormalities in their health, which mainly apply to symptoms of COVID-19.
To kick off the football season, coaches George LePorte, Quinton Short and Matthew Wargo have followed through with the BCAA’s Phase 1 and 2 procedures. The MSD team began voluntary conditioning on Sept. 22 and separated their team into different pods depending on each student athlete’s circumstances and availability.
“We always work out in some form of pods–by position, offense, defense, etc.– but it’s definitely harder with the smaller groups. The hardest part is just how long it takes to get all 100 plus players through the workouts at a decent time,” LePorte said. “Most of the pods are separated by position group still, with the exception of a few sets of brothers and some players who need to go earlier or later due to the fact that they work. I think this is the best way to condition for now, because we want to limit the amount of contact between players, coaches and managers. Our coaching staff is very aware of the guidelines, and take them very seriously.”
Before the start of in-person practices, many coaches kept in touch with their players through the use of Zoom. During these sessions LePorte went over the playbook to make sure his players are mentally prepared for the fall season.
“It’s been hard this offseason. I’ve been coaching since 2006, and this is the longest I’ve gone without seeing my players. We met consistently at the beginning of the summer through Zoom,” LePorte said. “I hate that I can’t be with the whole team yet, but if we need to start this way to keep the players safe, then that’s what we’ll do.”
COVID-19 has heavily impacted the football team and their ability to practice and train to their full potential. Usually, the team is able to train with weights between each season, but over the summer, the MSD athletes were unable to go attend sessions in the weight room.
“There are a few differences between what we usually do and what we’re doing now,” LePorte said. “We usually work out in larger groups–offense and defense, or skill positions and linemen. The workouts we’re doing now usually start in June, and last until August. Now we will only condition for three weeks before practice starts. Not being able to be in the weight room all summer hurts us a lot. I think the possibility for success is still there, especially because most of the players were doing workouts at home throughout the season.”
The varsity football team is set to have their first game against Coral Springs High School on Oct. 29. This game will help determine the future of their season.
In comparison to the steps the football team is taking, both the mens’ and womens’ golf season will proceed a little differently.
“Golfers have their own equipment and most of the girls play in local events and practice on their own, so our conditioning has not been as affected as other sports. At the moment, we have not had any official practices,” Coach Devin Schaller said.
However, the golf teams will now be playing during the spring rather than the fall season.
The men’s and women’s cross country teams do not require any type of equipment for their practices, nor is it necessary for them to be on-campus either. Therefore, they are conditioning daily at Pine Trails Park to avoid any collision with other sports teams at drop-off, check-in or pick-up.
Similarly to football, runners condition in pods of 10 or less where social-distancing is maintained. When these conditioning practices are held, it is mandated that coaches wear masks at all times. Meanwhile, the athletes are required to wear masks unless they are running or exercising.
“We tend to split into training groups based on ability anyway, so spilling into pods has not affected our ability to train that much,” Coach Bob Oelschlager said. “The staggered pod times actually give the coaches the ability to pay more attention to each individual. And until in-person classes start, we get better workouts running in the evening because it’s cooler.”
Throughout the conditioning process, the athletes emphasize the stretching process. A set of several running exercises are practiced as well.
“We run various distances at various paces to improve cardiovascular fitness. One long run a week. One progressive run, starting easily and gradually picking up the pace,” Oelschlager said. “One temp repeat workout, 6 to 8 minutes ‘too fast to talk’ with 2 to 3 minutes recovery in between. Easy recovery runs with some 20 second speed bursts thrown.”
In contrast to the cross country teams’ season remaining in the fall, the men’s and women’s swim teams will now have a winter season, set to start in January, instead of a fall season.
Even though the MSD teams will begin at a later time, most other high school swim teams in Florida will be competing during the fall season. The swimmers’ times will be recorded and compared to one another after all the teams in Broward County have completed their season.
The women’s volleyball team began conditioning on Oct. 19, and will continue to do so up until their first game on Oct. 27, at home against Cooper City High School. The team is following Phase 3 regulations set by the BCAA.
“For conditioning we will be practicing social distances, and possibly wearing masks as well,” left back Valentina Forbes (12) said. “We will start practicing at school sometime after next week when everyone is cleared. I think it will be more challenging than usual, but it would be worth it.”
The only fall sports in session will be varsity and junior varsity football, women’s volleyball, bowling and men’s and women’s cross country.
Other schools in the district have had COVID-19 cases linked to their student athletes. The district temporarily suspended Western High School’s JV football program and Cypress Bay High School cheerleading program after positive COVID-19 cases emerged. So far, the commencement of fall sports has not run into any issues at MSD.
Continuing these trends will allow future MSD sports to occur during the 2020-2021 school year. For now, the school is taking baby steps into the world of sports during COVID-19.
This story was originally published in the October 2020 Eagle Eye print edition.