HC and East Chicago Central clash in this photo from the Wildcats’ 34-6 season-opening win 8/23/19 at the Wildcat Den. HC is scheduled to open the 2020 season on 8/21 at ECC.
HC football coaches meet virus challenges to prepare for ’20 season
special to The Lowell Tribune
As Indiana’s lawmakers and school administrators continue to make decisions regarding the upcoming academic year, Hanover Central football coaches are moving forward with caution, trying to accomplish a seemingly impossible task: create an environment that encourages social-distancing in a sport that requires person-to-person contact on every play.
Head football coach Brian Parker, entering his third year at the Wildcat Den, is up to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 coronavirus. But he also acknowledged that preparations for his season opener, currently scheduled for August 21st at East Chicago Central, will include frequent monitoring of news sources.
“The IHSAA has said that we are going to have football,” Parker said. “But if Governor Holcomb says we won’t play football, that trumps everything.”
The Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) established a three phase re-entry plan leading to intra-school competition beginning August 15. The plan complements the state’s Back on Track Plan.
Workouts for fall sports began July 6, and allowed high school athletes to return to their campus facilities to train, lift weights, and participate in drills. No contact was allowed, social distancing was required, and gathering sizes were to be kept to a minimum.
Parker and his staff have worked tirelessly to ensure compliance with the re-entry plan.
“As of now, we have 63 kids in the program. They don’t want 63 kids together. Distancing is challenging. We’re separating our varsity players and our junior varsity players. We bring in varsity players from 7 am to 9:30 am, then our J.V. kids come in from 9:30 to Noon. Then we have them split into position groups so we can keep them in smaller groups.”
Parker said by keeping the players in smaller groups, if a player should test positive for COVID-19, it would be easier to do contact tracing and only the smaller group would have to quarantine, not the entire team.
The head coach detailed staff tasks to ensure safety. He and his coaches are spending less time with chalk and playbooks and more time with tape and disinfectant.
“During our time together, we are splitting the time between the weight room and football activities. A lot of schools are staying away from the weight room, but our facilities give us the space to allow for social distancing. We moved the equipment around and taped off areas to keep them six feet or more apart while we are in the weight room. We wipe down and disinfect equipment after each kid uses each station.
“Masks are required when entering the building and during the screening process. After screening, the first stop for the players is the bathroom, where they wash their hands,” Parker said.
The daily screening process includes asking each player virus-related questions before they are allowed in the building.
Coaches also used painter’s tape to mark distanced locations to place duffel bags and personal belongings. The practice field has also been marked off to ensure that position groups stay together. When practice is over, players are dismissed from the field, ensuring they do not return to the high school building. The seven football coaches wear masks at all times.
“There are a lot of hoops to jump through, a lot of safety precautions to take,” Parker said. “The logistics of the thing has been overwhelming at times but I think we got it down good.”
The Hanover Community School Corporation has placed an emphasis on disinfecting the school. Administrators purchased disinfectant foggers for the classrooms, hallways, and athletic facilities.
Still, football is football.
“We’re gonna’ control the contact as much as possible, but at some point obviously there has to be segments of practice when we have to teach tackling and blocking, where you have to push and pull another human being, Parker said. “I don’t think there’s a way around that.”
While Parker, his staff, and school administrators work to prevent infections, Parker has reminded his students of their own role.
“We’re doing everything and anything in our power to keep them safe. But at the same time when they’re away from us, they have to hold up their end of the bargain. They have to wear masks. They can’t visit hotspot states. They have to stay away from large crowds. These are things we are preaching on more than a daily basis.”
Parker’s HC football squad returns a number of starters on both sides of the ball from a team that finished 5-1 against Greater South Shore Conference opponents in 2019. But his optimism is cautious, knowing the status of the 2020 season is fluid at best.
“Obviously the worst-case scenario is no season at all, and I think that’s a reality. We’ve been telling the boys—it’s a cliché—you have to take it one day at a time and that holds especially true this year.”
Parker has met with Superintendent Mary Tracy-MacAulay, Principal Tami Kepshire, and Athletic Director Kelly Bermes. He also recently participated in a teleconference with his fellow GSSC head coaches to discuss possible scenarios, including a shortened season if the need arises.
Parker says so much could change when school starts.
“The game is gonna’ change once school begins. Are students gonna’ come down with it (coronavirus)? Probably. How school districts handle it will dictate what our season looks like.
“As football coaches, there are people above us that make decisions and it’s out of our hands. Our primary focus is taking care of these kids and making sure that in the time they’re with us they are as safe as possible.”
Assuming all goes according to plan, Parker is excited about his 2020 Wildcats, who are expected to compete for a conference crown. He says he has simplified the playbook offensively and defensively, in part because COVID-19 has reduced the time for athletes to prepare, but also because of his confidence in his team.
“I think we have really good players. Less is more, let’s let our players make plays.”
When the coronavirus sent students home in March for lockdown and e-learning, spring sports were canceled, and fall sports coaches had to decide how they would adapt their off-season workouts. Parker held online, Zoom teleconference workouts. He said upwards of 50 football players participated regularly.
“We’ve already seen the benefits of that,” Parker said. “Our team entered summer workouts in great shape. This is a very hard-working group.”
Only time will tell if the Wildcats’ hard work is tested under the lights August 21st in East Chicago.
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