NEW MEXICO FOOTBALL COACHES SEEK ADVICE ABOUT BEST COVID-19 PRACTICES & GUIDELINES
With a start date on the calendar, high school football coaches are preparing for the return to the gridiron. With the go-ahead to begin practice, and games soon to follow, comes a large responsibility to make sure their teams get to finish the season with safe COVID-19 procedures.
“At this point, every coach in New Mexico wants to do everything that is possible in order to play,” said Carlsbad High School football coach Gary Bradley. “New Mexico athletes deserve that.”
New Mexico coaches recently solicited suggestions on social media from other coaches around the country to see what sort of advice they had for a successful COVID-free season.
Denver City (TX) High School football coach Speedy Faith, who is also a former Lovington High School head coach, responded with “Sanitize, wear masks in locker room, social distance in locker room.” Faith says his program never had any on-field issues. He added, “Spread out on buses, take two buses if possible. Don’t eat on the bus. Don’t go into restaurants. The players need to stay away from gatherings.”
Zach Kelley of Cedar Hills High School (TX) suggested to all New Mexico coaches that they enforce a strict mask patrol. “If you are not actively participating in a drill, mask is up,” he said. “Separate everything into groups, from weight rooms to meeting rooms. Also stress to your kids HOW to make this work. You have to sacrifice your outside social life for the benefit of your season.”
Westminster football coach Mark Harrison in Atlanta says his program had a successful season without one COVID related issue on his team. “We were strict about social distancing when the players were not actively practicing against each other,” he wrote. “If they were not in a drill that required their helmets, they had their helmet off and their mask on.” New Mexico requires mask wearing at all times as it relates to the return of athletics.
“Most importantly, our players knew if they wanted a season, they had to be responsible,” Harrison added. “Our players had an agreement with each other to not put themselves in a position which could hurt the team so that meant no ‘hanging out’ outside of practice and no parties.”
Colorado was able to complete a high school football season and a large part of their success can be attributed to the guidance and protocols put in place. “Coaches need to be extremely diligent in their screenings and teaching of protocols as it is really important that everyone do their part to help the season continue,” said Pueblo South football coach Ryan Goddard. “Be flexible because there will be many adjustments throughout. Getting the opportunity to participate and compete is so important to student athletes right now and maybe more important than ever.”
Steve Decker, head coach at Sunrise Mountain High School, led his team to the 5A State Championship in Arizona after successfully navigating a COVID-year. He says one big key was reminding his players, at the start of the season, about how fortunate they were just to be able to play. “One of the big things we did was bring the kids in early and tell them we have a lot of rules we have to abide by, football is a gift now,” Decker told his team. “We constantly reminded them, ‘If we want to play, we have to abide by them. We are able to be out here while others aren’t, they are allowing us to practice.’ That mentality carried through the whole season and the kids practiced different.”
Separation and sanitation was the key to getting through the year for head coach Rick Garretson at Chandler High School in Arizona. “Our team was separated into offense and defense. We used classrooms for meeting areas and even outside picnic tables, or even the end zone like youth football,” Chandler said. “We never lifted together as a group and everything in the weightroom was wiped down constantly, same thing in the classrooms, all desks were wiped down. We checked kids in every day, our kids always had gloves on and they brought their own water. They were told, ‘If you’re not feeling well, don’t come to practice, period.’ If they were out longer than 48 hours they had to have a doctor’s note to return. Even on the bus, we had names of the players and where they could sit, it was pretty detailed. The bottom line was that we told them, ‘Here are the guidelines, if you don’t follow them, you’re not in the program. If you don’t have a mask, gloves, your own water, you’re not playing.’”
Todd Hanley, head coach of the Flagstaff Eagles in Arizona, avoided a major COVID-19 outbreak by keeping each of his squads separated as well. “When we created our Freshman, JV and Varsity team, that was it, those teams stayed separate from each other,” Hanley explained. “We didn’t dress out JV kids with the varsity like we would in a normal year. When the Varsity traveled, I created seating charts so that an equal number of starters and backups were on each bus trying to ensure that if there was a positive case we could maybe maintain half our team since the bus was really the only close quarters we would be in.”
Being able to compartmentalize practice and games was part of the plan for Justin Jones, head coach of Norman North in Oklahoma. “We had 120 kids on our varsity roster, so we took time every day to set out cones six feet apart down the sidelines to keep them distanced,” Jones said. “Every coach carried a sanitizer with them and sprayed the hands of the players after each drill. We made sure every player had their own water bottle. The most important thing is to have a plan. We did a good job of thinking of all the possible scenarios and putting it on paper. It was one of the most tedious things we’ve ever done, but you have to think outside the box to create a safe environment for athletes. It’s important for student athletes to go out and play, no matter what sport it is.”
Ultimately, it’s about keeping the student athletes and coaches focused on the objective of just getting kids back out on the field in a safe environment. “I felt like it was important for me to remember the ‘end goal’ and to never lose sight of the fact that this year was not going to be normal,” said A.C. Flora High School football coach Dustin Curtis in South Carolina. “If we practiced normal, we wouldn’t make it. Once we accepted the change as a program, we were able to fine tune what we were doing to make things work as efficiently as was possible.”
The New Mexico High School Coaches Association will be hosting multiple Zoom meetings on February 13th to bring in some coaches from other states to share even more suggestions and ideas. “Experience and knowledge are the keys to success,” said NMHSCA Executive Director Buster Mabrey. “Helping our coaches learn from those individuals that have experienced success coaching kids during this COVID pandemic will only help our coaches be better.”