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Chester County football coaches take one step at a time in summer of uncertainty

With the PIAA still planning — as of this story’s publication, at least — to start the 2020 football season as scheduled, Chester County high school coaches are closely monitoring their teams’ preseason activities to ensure the players’ safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve been conditioning and doing football-related activities for two weeks,” said Bishop Shanahan head coach Paul Meyers. “The linemen have been walking through the run plays and defensive fronts and the skill guys have been going through the pass plays and defensive coverages.

“When we first started with all the guidelines in place, it took some adjusting for the coaches and the players,” Meyers said. “But now it’s running smoothly. Our kids have been awesome. They are doing an excellent job with the COVID procedures.”

Downingtown East head coach Mike Matta said, “Our school district and athletic department has laid out a plan that we are following — we have five groups of 20 athletes and two-to-three coaches. We rotate through stations doing various activities. All of the work is outside and we have not yet introduced weights, balls, or blocking dummies to the workouts.”

PETE BANNAN-DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA Downingtown East coach Michael Matta.

While heat acclimation week is scheduled to start Aug. 10, the PIAA fall sports situation remains fluid and the Chesco football coaches are taking it one week at a time.

“We just completed two weeks without any equipment such as footballs being used — we are in masks and practicing with social distancing,” said Downingtown West coach Mike Milano. “This week we have been given permission to use footballs and shields. I have no idea what August will look like at this point.”

Milano added that D-West plans to split its preseason sessions into a morning and an evening segment, sending players home between sessions, for safety reasons.

“Instead of keeping the kids here at school for lunch and meetings between sessions, if we send them home we will reduce the possibility of virus spread,” said the Whippets coach.

With the possibility looming that the 2020 football season could be postponed or cancelled, Great Valley head coach Jeff Martin emphasized a day-by-day approach.

“We realize that there is a possibility that the season could be altered but as a team we’re focused on each day to better ourselves,” said Martin. “We are preparing for the season to begin Aug. 10. I think we realize there could be challenges and setbacks with the expectations and playing the season as planned.

“But, [our] coaches have encouraged the players to stay present, control what they can control, and keep working to be prepared for the season,” Martin said. “The safety of our players is the priority. If the guidance provides the players the opportunity to compete in the fall, we will be ready.”

At Avon Grove, head coach Joe Coffey notes, “We’ve been able to complete two weeks of voluntary practices following the Avon Grove School District Athletic Health and Safety plan, and we will continue to follow that plan as it is written until Aug. 10. At some point a decision will have to be made by the governor and the PIAA to determine a clear path forward for all fall athletic programs.

“Our goal is to follow all guidelines and restrictions that have been set forth for us to do our part in keeping our athletes and coaches safe to the best of our ability,” Coffey said. “Athletics are an extension of the classroom and provide a lot of our players a positive outlet. We recognize that this is a fluid situation and we will continue to prepare our players to be ready to start on time. Our players and coaches just want an opportunity to compete and resume football this fall.”

West Chester Henderson head coach John Lunardi agrees.

“Our kids are excited to be back together and working out,” Lunardi said. “It’s been good for them to have the camaraderie and togetherness and they are grateful to have the opportunity to be out there. I’m really proud of how our kids have responded to this situation throughout this.

“We are excited to keep things going into August,” Lunardi said. “We will follow all guidelines and protocols established by the school district administration, whatever that may look like, for preseason.”

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