TENNERTON – The Upshur County Board of Education gave the green light earlier this week for their student-athletes to open Phase 1 of the WVSSAC-approved conditioning and the Buccaneer football team was the first to take advantage of the opening on Wednesday.
Despite the return to practice, it was in an unconventional manner for both the coaches and the players.
Just a few of the Phase I guidelines included student-athletes being asked to wear masks during most activities and practice social distancing and the maximum number of players allowed in a ‘pod’ at the same time was 10. (For a complete list of WVSSAC guidelines, please visit: https://s3.amazonaws.com/wvmetro-uploads-prod/2020/05/Summer-Guidance-Draft-Final-May-29.pdf?x35760)
“During Phase I, there have been quite a few adjustments,” noted Buckhannon-Upshur head football coach Duane Stoeckle. “Like wearing masks, practicing social distancing, only allowing outside workouts (so we cannot use our weight room), limiting groups to 10 or less players, and disinfecting equipment between each station. I would say wearing masks has probably been the toughest adjustment. The state allows us to let the players remove or take down their mask during aerobic activities, but recommends we keep them on the rest of the time. Overall, our players have done a great job adjusting to this.”
With only 10 players allowed in a 60-minute practice at the same time, Stoeckle and his Bucs are running three one-hour periods in the morning and again in the late afternoon, allowing the players to select which times work the best for them.
“We used a Google doc to determine what times players felt they could attend the workouts,” said Stoeckle. “We knew we would need about six pods and have players pick their first, second and third time slots based on those six pods. Most players were able to receive their top two slots.”
The veteran head coach said that the pods have a nice mixture of players from all four grade levels.
Stoeckle said despite the non-traditional setting, he is happy to be back out on the turf with his players.
“It was great to be back on the field with our players, and it was good to see so many of their smiling faces,” remarked Stoeckle. “Well, I think they were smiling; it was hard to tell most of the time due to the masks they had to wear. Our last lifting and conditioning session together was on March 13. Nobody knew that would be our last day working out for the school year. We've been having Zoom team meetings on Tuesdays, but it was just a positive feeling to actually get to see and talk to our players and coaches in person.”
Phase I will run until June 19th and will give way to Phase II which will loosen a few of the restrictions on current practice activities.
“We will be meeting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays,” noted Stoeckle. “We are trying to get their conditioning and strength back. Some guys are still in great shape from working on Coach (Jeff) Johnson's "at home" workouts. Some need to get back into shape. We are trying to bring them along as quickly and as safely as possible.”
According to Buckhannon-Upshur athletic director Rick Reynolds, football was the only athletic team to open on Wednesday, but he expects other teams will begin their summer practice sessions when they are ready.
“It will be totally up to them on when they want to open,” remarked Reynolds.
“Each sport had to submit a Phase I plan for return to practice/workouts,” explained Stoeckle. “I really want to thank our athletic director Rick Reynolds for working with us on developing our plan and approving it. I also want to thank our superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus for final approval. Finally, I want to thank our players and coaches for their effort, energy and enthusiasm during our workouts. I think we are all really happy to be back on the field!”
While pleased to be back on the field, Stoeckle still has a guarded optimism that the upcoming 2020 season will occur.
“I'm hopeful our season will proceed as normal,” concluded Stoeckle. “That is why it is so important that schools across the state follow the Phase I guidelines. If there is a spike anywhere in the state, that could cause the state to cancel fall sports or have any number of crazy variations, plans, or guidelines moving forward. As always, we will be ready to adapt, overcome, and improvise to whatever guidelines the state comes up with. We can only worry about the things we can control.”
The Buccaneers are scheduled to begin their season Friday, Aug. 28 on the road against Class AA Fairmont Senior.