As Northeast Ohio’s young athletes return to practice, things are not exactly the same as they used to be before Covid-19. But after weeks of “stay-at-home” orders, the teens are glad to be back on the field or court, together, practicing their skills in modified ways.
Overseeing a 3-phase program that allows them to safely return to play amid the coronavirus pandemic are Akron Children’s athletic trainers.
“Athletic trainers were known for taping knees and ankles, and addressing the rare but serious emergency such as cardiac arrest, “ said Dr. Joe Congeni, director of Sports Medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital. “They met the next big challenge and became experts in identifying concussions on the sidelines. Now, in the Covid-19 era, they have met the new challenge and are our experts in infection control in youth sports.”
The 14 days of Phase 1 allows young athletes to return to practice in groups of 9 with one coach. They can lift weights or practice foot skills but can’t, say, pass a football or do any one-on-one on the basketball court.
The infection control guidelines have been provided by National Federation of State High School Associations and the Ohio High School Athletic Association but districts are adding their own policies. In general, the districts are beginning the 6-week (3 two-week) phased-in approach based on the start date of their school year.
Akron Children’s has athletic trainers in nearly 30 school districts in Summit, Stark, Medina, Portage, Warren and Mahoning counties.
“The real keys in all the phases is going to be the screening questions and the temperature checks,” said Dr. Congeni. “If there are no spikes in infections, teams can move into Phase 2, where there’s the opportunity to have 50 people in an outside situation, 10 people still on the inside.”
Phase 2 may also allow the use of locker and meeting rooms with social distancing. Low risk sports like cross country will be able to come together for their traditional practices sooner than sports like football and basketball because of the level of close contact inherent in the sport.
At Highland High School, athletic trainer Mike Johnson has been overseeing football, basketball, soccer and volleyball players and cross country runners returning to practice since their school year abruptly ended in March. Altogether, he is responsible for the health of 700 high school athletes in the district.
On a recent day, football players took turns in the weight room and outside on the field, while members of the girls basketball team were spread out in the gymnasium.
He’s screening the athletes about recent fever and exposure to Covid-19, and watches to see that athletes do not share towels or water bottles. Highland should be ready to enter Phase 2 the week of June 15.
“Just four weeks ago, we all thought we wouldn’t be back to August, at best, and, now, here we are,” said Johnson. “I am very optimistic but also cautiously optimistic.”