As George Coghill rushed to the practice field at Walker-Grant Middle School Tuesday evening, the first-year James Monroe football coach carried more than just a whistle.
Coghill was wearing a face mask and he was armed with a digital thermometer gun he would use to check the temperatures of the nearly 40 players and coaches on hand for the first day of conditioning.
Coghill said his initial season taking over for Virginia High School League Hall of Fame coach Rich Serbay is shaping up to be an interesting one. He plans to install a new offensive scheme while maneuvering around the COVID-19 pandemic amid the possibility of not having a season to play.
“It does put me behind,” Coghill said. “But at the same time, we’ve got to understand this is not a normal thing that’s going on. This is a pandemic that everyone has to deal with. Everyone has to abide by the rules. If we ever want to think about getting back on the field, we’ve got to get this under control.”
In addition to the Yellow Jackets, Caroline and King George started conditioning on Tuesday. The rest of the Rappahannock Area Health District—Spotsylvania and Stafford counties—have yet to submit their reopening plan to the Virginia Department of Education and the start of fall conditioning is still pending.
The schools that have started are also hosting conditioning for other fall sports that include field hockey, golf, volleyball and cross country.
Coghill, King George athletic director Alex Fisher and Caroline AD Paul Heizer all said their teams will be extremely cautious.
“We don’t want to be the school that screws it up for everybody else,” Fisher said. “So we want to be real careful about what we’re doing, making sure it’s all appropriate and we follow all the guidelines. That part has been laid out for us. We just have to follow the rules.”
The Yellow Jackets had a big X marked and spaced apart off to the side of the field for each player to sit his belongings. On the field, hash marks were placed six feet apart for players to perform drills. Tackling dummies were laid out on the ground, but were only used for footwork drills.
Any player with a temperature above 100.4 degrees is immediately sent home and required to undergo COVID-19 testing. There’s a questionnaire asking if the player has had a fever in the last week, a lingering cough or sore throat, shortness of breath or if he’s been in contact with anyone diagnosed with the coronavirus.
JM athletic director Kenton Griffin is keeping a record of all players present. There were more than 30 on hand Tuesday. Parents and coaches are asked to sign a waiver.
First-year principal Tim Duffy oversaw the first day of workouts.
“It’s going to be an education process, but safety is No. 1,” Duffy said. “I’m definitely going to monitor things closely and make sure everyone understands what they have to do. Today being the first day, we have to explain some things to parents and athletes.”
There are no spectators allowed, including parents. Only the quarterback is allowed to touch the ball. There is no shared equipment and players have to bring their own water bottles.
Those are part of the guidelines at Caroline, as well, where 23 football players showed up Tuesday but several had to sit out because they didn’t bring their own water or the necessary paperwork.
“We just talked about being strict on what the guidelines are,” Caroline AD Paul Heizer said. “If you don’t bring water, you have the option to go home or sit in the shade. We’re going to stay on top of it and make sure everything we’ve got in place we can actually enforce.”
Fisher said the guidelines are the easy part. He said tempering the enthusiasm of high-octane athletes who have had their movements restricted for the past four months is the most challenging aspect. Coaches and administrators have the unenviable task of letting them know it’s still not time to go all-out.
“Everybody’s anxious to do something,” Fisher said. “The kids are so excited, they’re going to want to jump right into it and do everything right off the bat … We have to be careful, but make it worthwhile for the kids that show up and not curb their enthusiasm.”
Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526