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Area teams are dealing with the pandemic best that they can

Everything seemed so normal last year. And when all area football teams concluded their 2019 seasons, there was no indication 2020 would be any different.

Then the world changed in March as the COVID-19 pandemic settled into the United States and wreaked chaos. As the months went by, just having a high school football season became in doubt. Following a two-week delay, however, the PIAA voted to allow fall sports.

Practices began Monday, Aug. 24, and most of the season openers are scheduled for Friday. Already, though, there have been changes, with Bloomsburg having to shut down for two weeks after a player tested positive for COVID. It resulted in the Friday season opener being postponed a day to Saturday.

This is the new normal and teams have been adjusting since March. These truly are unprecedented times and teams continue handling the situation as best as they can.

“We treat the kids like adults and have spoken honestly about what was going on,” Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet said. “We have a veteran team and from talking to them early on I said, ‘I don’t want to be a downer, but here’s the situation,’ because no one knew if we were going to play or not. They said, ‘you’re telling the truth and we’d rather have it that way instead of shielding us from the situations.'”

These have been trying times in all life’s aspects. Both coaches and players have found themselves walking a fine line between being optimistic and acting as if it’s as business as usual while understanding the situation’s fluidity.

The offseasons have been abbreviated and preseasons look a lot different since school has started and teams cannot hold two-a-days and/or camps. Offenses and defenses have to be installed quicker than before and position battles will be condensed.

The hardest part, though, is blocking out the distractions and staying upbeat during such unpredictable times.

“The biggest challenge before the PIAA made its decision was getting them to stay focused and motivated when they weren’t sure they were going to have a season,” Williamsport coach Chuck Crews said. “That was the toughest part. We were positive with them consistently and we didn’t know what was going to happen but we had to get ready for the season. Nobody complained about the procedures that we had to follow and now we’re ready to go.”

That sentiment is shared by all eight Lycoming County teams. Each coach said that this summer has produced some of the best and largest voluntary workouts they have ever had. From March until late June when the county went green, sports were at a standstill and football teams could do no collective workouts.

When the green light came, athletes hit the field and weights with renewed vigor. Some teams added several new players as well with so many eager to be outside again. Many also have a new appreciation for the sports they love after the spring season was erased and it appeared the fall season might be for a while as well.

“The motivation has been there. We have a certain group of kids who work on a farm and they ask our coaches to come in at 6:30 in the morning. They are chomping at the bit,” Montgomery coach Paul Bozella said. “A lot of it has to do with them being in quarantine since March. Kudos to them for working and being open-minded to whatever the PIAA was going to decide.”

Because they are so eager to play, athletes have not complained about all the safety measures put in place. Whatever price needs paid, these teams gladly are paying it.

So what if they cannot lift in large groups, wear masks and constantly have to disinfect equipment? Doing all that so they an play sure beats the alternative.

“We’re taking temps every day, having health screenings and making sure every kid is safe,” Hughesville coach Adam Gehr said. “We’re socially distancing. Coaches are wearing masks, kids are wiping down everything and we’re dropping fog bombs when we’re done in the weight room. We’re Taking every precaution so we can play and, talking to other coaches, they are all doing everything necessary.”

“The most important thing is we can play,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “Whatever it is we have to do, we will follow that to the letter.”

Through all the challenges and adjustments have come positives. Because teams have to use the weight room in shifts, coaches have gotten more quality time with all their players than they might have in the past. It allows both coaches and players to know each other better, something that benefits them on and off the field.

Adversity often bonds teams together and these teams certainly have experienced a season’s worth in a short time. In that way, many teams might be closer than ever.

“We have gotten to spend more individual time with both the high school and junior high players and that is a great thing,” South Williamsport coach Chris Eiswerth said. “I think that really helped us get to know the kids and it’s making them a little more comfortable. The PIAA did a great thing giving the kids a chance to play and we’re just thankful we have that opportunity.”

The most popular sports cliché might be, “We’re taking it one day at a time.” That no longer is the case. That is life during COVID-19. Every day these teams have together is a blessing and they are embracing each day, each opportunity.

Sports always been about more than wins and losses. Especially at the youth and scholastic levels, they have been about learning life lessons. Since March, athletes have learned exponentially. Through it all, they keep working and improving.

These are uncertain times, but whatever the future holds, coaches have witnessed their players grow as athletes and people.

“We’ve been going at it the whole time like we were going to play, but we have some smart kids so they knew what was going on, but we’ve tried to sell them that whatever happens we’re going to compete,” Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. “Montoursville was still doing voluntary practices regardless of what the PIAA said (prior to its green light decision). If the seniors want to compete and play against each other then we would do something so they could compete. We’ve tried as a coaching staff to let them know they are not working for nothing.

“This means something.”

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