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Technology helped coaches bridge gap during shutdown

High school coaches certainly had to get creative the past three months.

With most area programs inching closer to health and safety guidelines that will allow resumption of in-person group workouts, July should see teams and athletes back on the field, track or court. Area coaches adapted several different ways to bridge the gap from shutdown to re-opening.

Technology played a pivotal role in making sure the resumption of sports would be a rolling start.

“Ever since the schools closed, we’ve been hosting virtual workouts with our kids and giving them things to do on their own,” Cheltenham football coach Ryan Nase said. “I checked in with them at least once a week and we named captains early so our captains could check in with guys as well.”

Normally in the summer, teams are taking part in summer leagues and many host sport camps where players work as counselors and get in some work afterward. This summer, that’s not an option so it’s largely been left up to athletes to do things on their own.

Pennridge boys soccer fits into that bill. Usually, the Rams take part in a summer league hosted at Lehigh University to build fitness and depth for the upcoming season but that league was cancelled for this year.

To make sure his guys were ready when the call to restart came, coach Pete Valimont gave them summer homework of sorts.

“We’ve had weekly Zoom meetings with all the players on Sunday nights and they had a fitness challenge for June,” Valimont said. “I challenged them to run 2,000 miles as a team just to keep their fitness because normally, we’d be in summer league.”

Cheltenham plans to present its safety plan in a school board meeting on Tuesday, June 30 but even if it is approved, Nase said his team will focus on strength and conditioning during the summer. As a way to make up for the Xs and Os side of things, the Panthers have gone virtual.

“Our defensive coaches got pretty creative and came up with a virtual reality game,” Nase said. “The kids can play as themselves and line up in a formation or play, so instead of playing Madden, they’re using our game and getting mental reps in which is pretty cool.

“I told my coaches they should patent it and sell it because they would be millionaires.”

Virtual workouts became routine over the past few months. Saturday morning, Souderton girls basketball hosted a virtual workout fundraiser to benefit The Loveland Foundation with at least 10 teams following four trainers through half-hour workouts.

These new-age adaptations weren’t limited to just high school teams either. AAU and travel programs went heavy into the Zoom workouts and meetings in March, April and May with many bringing in a guest speaker or trainer to mix things up.

When sports did start to resume earlier this month like PBR’s PA State Games baseball showcase, technology helped make up for the lack of crowds. Scouts and coaches may not have been in DuBois, Pa. directly, but they were able to watch every bit of the three-day event that has many local players take part.

“I felt like it took off part of the pressure,” Germantown Academy’s Aidan Zakarewicz said. “You didn’t have to think about all the people watching. When I would look up and see there weren’t a lot of parents or scouts, it didn’t feel like a showcase but more like a real game.”

North Penn’s Josh Jones said he and a few of his soccer and basketball teammates got together on their own for informal workouts when the area moved into the yellow phase of reopening and plan to keep doing so now that Montgomery, Bucks and Philadelphia counties are in green.

As athletic programs present and get approval on their safety guidelines and restart, technology and virtual training can still have a place and use. For outdoor sports that would have to retreat inside for practices in bad weather, there are options to accomplish some of the same things at home.

However high school sports look when they resume, it won’t be the same as they were in March. No matter what role technology and virtual services play in that new image, they won’t matter if safety protocols aren’t upheld.

“There’s going to be little things you notice about what happens outside the fences or off the field, but the more people that do it safely, the better off it will be,” North Penn baseball coach Kevin Manero said. “The problem is if you have people who want to get back on the field and don’t follow the guidelines, then you have a negative effect and it ruins it for everybody.”

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