Every other day, Springfield girls lacrosse coach Keith Broome drives by Halderman Field, where his team usually practices and sometimes play its games, and sees nothing but open space. There are no players running or working on their skills, just a vast, empty field.
It’s a stark reminder of our strange times since life has come to a screeching halt in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Schools have been shut down. Fields and parks have been deemed off limits to large groups. Spring sports seasons have been put on hold.
“I miss it,” Broome said. “I miss being with the kids and I miss being with the coaches. It’s a pretty crazy time.”
And in this unprecedented time, administrators, coaches and athletes have had to devise inventive ways to stay busy, remain fit and keep a positive attitude as they ride out the pandemic, while continuing to practice social distancing, of course.
Springfield, for example, has created what it calls is Spring Athletic Challenge. George Caroulis, the school’s strength and conditioning coach, puts together a weekly workout program that students can safely follow at home. The program is emailed to each coach and athlete at the beginning of the week, and teams and individuals compete, through a point system, to see who can achieve the highest rate of participation.
The challenge is the brainchild of athletic director Glenn Mallon and assistant AD and boys lacrosse coach Tom Lemieux.
“It’s a way to keep everyone connected and involved,” Mallon said.
In the first week, 170 athletes took part in the challenge, including 47 of the 48 members of the girls lacrosse team.
“It’s fun. It gives us something to do every day,” All-Delco lacrosse player Alyssa Long said. “You’re not just laying in bed. You get to compete with your team and the other sports, like the boys lacrosse team. We’re always have competitions with them. We love beating the boys lacrosse team.”
That’s not all that’s going on at Springfield. Assistant girls lacrosse coach Sarah Damato sends out a video of her doing a stick trick, like throwing the stick up in the air with the ball in the head and catching the stick without dropping the ball. Damato challenges the players to duplicate the trick on video and send it back to her.
“It’s just something silly,” Damato said. “I’m not very good at stick tricks so it’s funny for me to do it. It takes me all day to get it done, but it gives the girls a chance to see the other players that they don’t usually talk to, like the older ones and the younger ones. It gets the conversation going.”
One day, Damato was late in sending out the video and she heard from the players.
“We all gave her a hard time,” Long said.
“I had to explain to them that I have two little girls at home and that I’m still trying to work so I’ll send it out when I can,” Damato said.
Some athletes, like Long, who will attend the University of North Carolina, have equipment at home to keep her skills sharp. She throws a ball against the brick wall at her house and uses a bounce back, a net and a shot blocker to stay on top of her game.
Strath Haven baseball infielder Jake Mon has been hitting off a tee, throwing a ball against a wall and going to a field for long toss with people who “are allowed out of the house.” He also has been doing resistance band training and workouts from the coaches at the University of Scranton, where he will play next year.
“I’m kind of looking at it as an extended offseason,” said Mon, who plans to major in business administration. “It’s more time to get better.”
The workouts can help him stay sharp but can’t make up for the lack of contact with friends and teammates.
“The kids on my team are family,” Mon said. “We’re not a team. We’re so much more than that. It’s the whole aspect of being a team. You become a family. I miss being a leader and being that kid that would lead by example, practicing every day as hard as we can, going out there giving it everything.
“It’s hard not to do that. We have to accept the fact that it’s not happening. It’s a hard pill to swallow but we have to accept that we can’t go out there.”
Some, like Strath Haven baseball coach Brian Fili, have discovered skills they never thought they had.
“I’m going to be 45 in a week or two and I never used to be a person who cooked, but I’m cooking dinner every night and my kids love it,” Fili said. “It’s becoming more challenging because I don’t know what the heck’s in the kitchen usually.”
Radnor baseball coach Mark Jordan has sent out instructional videos he’s found online to keep his players occupied and ready just in case the season does resume. Radnor assistant girls track coach Tom Flanagan has emailed workout suggestions to athletes, largely running and core exercises. He advises sprinters to run hills.
“It’s good to get some exercise whether you’re an athlete or not,” Flanagan said. “If you can go out and do something its good for your mental health as well as your physical health. Every little bit helps.”
Upper Darby assistant track coach Michelle Ezzie uses a reminder app to tell her athletes to keep up with their mileage goals. Some of the players put together a video on TikTok, which they sent to head coach Brad Gilbert.
“It’s this challenge going around,” All-Delco triple jumper Siani Barnes said. “You have on sweats and you pass a spike or a baton and you change into your uniform and you keep that going.”
“The main thing is to do things to keep their spirits up,” Gilbert said. “We’re going to do a Google hangout to see how everyone is doing.”
The time off has been beneficial for Barnes. She struggled with hamstring and knee problems, and the break has given her time to heal.
“I’m been resting a lot in between working out,” said Barnes, who finished fifth in the triple jump at the indoor state championships last month.
Those workouts including doing Zumba and yoga with her mom, Mia White, and core exercise suggestions she receives from Ezzie.
“I’m just trying to stay in shape,” Barnes said. “There’s not really much to do technique wise because we have no access to our track. I still find a way to get outside and get moving. I’ll do stuff at home.”
Penn Wood hurdler Timi Odunjo, the 2019 Daily Times Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year, is in the same boat. He can’t work on his hurdling technique, so he goes for a run with his sisters in their Darby neighborhood and has turned to the Internet for other workout ideas.
“I started using the Nike training app because they show you things that I normally don’t do,” said Odunjo, who will attend Columbia University where he plans to major in financial economics. “It gives me workouts that I can do in the house and that’s really been helpful.”
The toughest part, Odunjo said, is staying upbeat, not just for himself, but his fellow seniors. He’s the senior class president at Penn Wood and his classmates come to him with a lot of questions like will the prom and graduation be cancelled?
“I have to be the one to tell them to keep their heads up,” Odunjo said. “Whatever happens, we’ll get through it in a positive way. It’s been hard to stay positive, but I’ve managed to do it and I’ll continue to do it.”
All this is being done without a timetable as to when or if schools will reopen this year or if there will be a spring sports season. The PIAA suspended its boys and girls basketball tournaments and its state swimming championships as well as the start of the spring season, but has not cancelled anything, yet. Schools in the commonwealth are closed indefinitely with the stay-at-home order from Governor Tom Wolf in force through at least April 30.
For that, a lot of athletes, coaches and administrators are thankful.
“Whether it happens or not it keeps a little hope alive,” Long said. “It gives you something to look forward to and it gives you a reason to work out, just knowing that there’s the slightest chance that could happen. It keeps you motivated and keeps a little bit of positivity in your life.”