18 01 susanbradyNormally at this time of year, fall sports coaches would be working with their athletes to get them in condition for the official start of practice on Aug. 1.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has put everyone into a holding pattern as news about the spread of the disease changes daily. Instead of firm dates, coaches for schools in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association have had to deal with multiple changes in when fall sports will resume, if at all. Most recently, they learned the earliest they will be allowed to begin 18 02 brianrandolphfall practice will be Sept. 1.

Jesse Autry, who is beginning his 29th season as cross country coach at South View, voiced the situation best for all of his fellow coaches.
Autry talked at length about being separated from his athletes for much of the summer until coaches were given permission 18 03toddedgeto contact them via computer.

“We communicate at least once a week by way of Zoom or Google Meeting or something like that,’’ Autry said. He talks with his athletes online and invites their parents to join in.

The first time he did it, Autry said things got a little emotional. “For all of them to see each other’s faces on the screen I was 18 04 IMG 7183really surprised,’’ he said. “I’m worried about the long-term impact of this, social isolation, kids seeing each other. Not being able to play team sports, to learn from camaraderie and friendship that comes from getting in the trenches together.’’

Autry said he knows COVID-19 is a serious matter and he supports the decisions of his superiors, but he’s hopeful there will be some kind of return to sports soon.

18 05 jalestywashington“I want us to compete,’’ he said. “I want us to be able to practice. I can see on my kids faces and hear in their voices what they are going through.’’

Todd Edge, golf coach at Cape Fear, saw the same thing when it came to his athletes being separated. “When we were finishing up our schooling on Google Classroom, when we stopped the teaching and recording part of it, the kids wanted 18 05 IMG 1865to stay online and talk to the teacher and their peers because they aren’t seeing anyone,’’ he said. “They’re not socializing with one another.’’

Jack Britt football coach Brian Randolph said the key issue remains the safety of the athletes, athletic trainers, coaches and all the sideline personnel involved in his sport.

“I don’t think we can create the bubble as the NBA and other higher level sports are doing,’’ Randolph said. “The first thing we have to worry about is the school aspect and getting kids back into school safely.’’

Terry Sanford tennis coach Susan Brady is confident most coaches would be willing to accept any form of abbreviated schedule just to be able to have competition this fall. Her main concern, which is shared by other coaches, is how much time the athletes need to get in competition shape.

For tennis, she thinks two or three weeks of practice while doing some cardio conditioning on the side would be enough to get in condition for matches. “The nice thing about tennis is when you’re on the court playing it’s constant movement,’’ she said.

Gray’s Creek volleyball coach Jalesty Washington feels that if people can go out and shop and interact in other ways in public, there has to be a way to figure out a safe method to return to athletic competition. “I feel like everybody is going out and doing normal stuff,’’ she said. “I don’t know what’s different with the school and getting in the gym.’’

Pine Forest soccer coach Isaac Rancour is trying to stay as positive as possible and not focus on the frustration of repeated delays and no definite word on when or if the fall season will begin.

“I’m just kind of going with the flow and passing information along as I get it,’’ Rancour said. “I don’t think it does any good to get frustrated about it.’’

He knows his players have worked hard and the seniors are worried if they will get the chance to play this year.

Whatever is done, Rancour wants it to be safe for everyone. “We are going to need more time to make sure we are able to social distance the kids and get everything checked before we get everything started,’’ he said. “If we have everyone doing their part it should all work out.’’

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