Monday was a small but important first step.
It kicked off the MSHSL summer coaching waiver period — one that was originally supposed to start June 1, but was pushed back to June 15 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Winona Senior High athletes, athletic trainers and coaches, along with activities director Casey Indra, were at Paul Giel Field on Monday morning as they continue to hope that a sense of normalcy will be restored.
“It’s a start,” Indra said. “It’s good to see the kids back and prove to everyone that it can be done safely.
“It’s a step in the right direction.”
Sure, Monday looked different.
Normally, those workouts take place at the Winona Senior High weight room and can be packed to the gills. But outdoor venues are allowed to have gatherings of 25 or more people with a maximum of 250 as long as social distancing is observed, compared to inside, where it is limited to serve 25% of their capacities.
On Monday, the athletes were and will continue to be split into two 25-person pods for both the 7 a.m. and 8:30 sessions while practicing social distancing during the workout.
Before participating, the athletes are first screened by getting their temperature taken and asked if they have had any symptoms of sore throat, fever, chills, muscle aches, etc. Everyone has to bring their own water, and any equipment used will be sprayed down with one of the many bottles of disinfectant available. All these steps will be done everyday. Each athlete and a parent also must sign a waiver before they are allowed to participate in any school related activity.
“The key to everything is safety,” Indra said. “The last thing we want to do is get a kid sick, hurt, injured. That’s why we are outdoors this first week. … These kids need it. That’s why we pushed so hard to start today. They need this stuff. If they feel safe enough to do it, we’ll help them stay safe by keeping them apart.”
The goal is to be in the weight room next week, but there are still some moving parts. First, they would have to make smaller pods because of the smaller space, not to mention finding the safest way to lift weights while also practicing social distancing. Indra said there are plenty of hand washing and hand sanitizer stations set up next to doors and other “touchpoint” areas, but Indra admitted it’s going to be tough.
“The biggest thing is just how are we going to keep them safe,” Indra said. “Because the worry that we have at the high school is they are coming into the parking lot. The first thing they do is say hi to one another. We have to drill into them that the 6 feet apart starts as soon as you get out of the car.”
But even the practice of lifting weights will be different. Because of social distancing requirements, the use of spotters will be eliminated. Of course, there will still be athletic trainers there for help if need be, but the key is the continued practice of social distancing and finding workouts that fit those guidelines.
“Our numbers will be lower, so we will make sure we have an appropriate number to maintain social distancing and safeties and things like that,” said trainer Eric Weigel, who led workouts on Monday. “There will be a lot less pairing of exercises, so kids will be doing one exercise, clean their station and then move to the next station. A lot of it will be just directing traffic to a degree, so once they get into the weight room one area will be doing one thing and the other half of the group will be on the other side. And then they will have to switch so we can try and stay spread out as far as distancing.
“The kids are eager to be back, so you have to make sure to remind them, ‘OK, keep your distance.’ Make sure you are coming in and getting their temperature checked, taking the questionnaire right away. Again, just making sure they are just being as safe as possible. It’s great to be back, but we still have a pandemic that’s going on. We have to make sure we are doing things right.”
On paper, it appears Indra and company have a plan in place to move forward, but Indra understands that it could change just like that.
“We keep saying this is as fluid as it comes,” Indra said. “(The state) could truly come out today and say something that changes everything for the rest of the week. We’re doing it on a week-to-week basis with the idea that we’re not recreating the wheel. … We are waiting as long as we can, hoping that the governor will make a change or the State High School League will come out with something.”
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