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Since quarantine, Loyalsock has been eager to play

On his first day at home after Loyalsock football players and coaches were told to quarantine 10 days ago, the 10-year-old son of Lancers coach Justin Van Fleet approached him.

“Dad, did you get fired?” Tristan asked.

It was a light-hearted moment, one to ease the tension, as Van Fleet began a 10-day quarantine after a student at Loyalsock came down with a probable case of COVID-19, according to a statement from superintendent Jerry McLaughlin. While other schools have gone on with football life, Van Fleet, his coaches and players have had to sit and wait.

The Lancers returned to the practice field Friday for the first time since Sept. 8 when they were told they needed to quarantine.

“In the spring we were all stuck and communally waited,” Van Fleet said. “In this situation, everything else moved on. We were just stuck. We’re not able to go to school. We’re not able to go to practice. We’re not able to meet. We were just stuck in our homes and waited.”

The shutdown was a gut punch for Van Fleet and the entire team. It had been gearing up for its season-opener against Warrior Run, but had to cancel its first two games because of the quarantine. The Lancers open the season on Sept. 25, nearly three weeks after it was shut down, and two weeks after nearly every other District 4 school, at home against Hughesville.

Van Fleet tried to district himself during the first night of games last Friday. He and his family turned on “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, but he couldn’t just ignore the games. Instead, he watched live streams on his phone for the Warrior Run/Muncy game and for the Montoursville/Midd-West game. The next night, he was watching Hughesville open against Bloomsburg.

Van Fleet is unsure right now if Loyalsock will be replacing the two missing games from its schedule. Both its first two opponents (Warrior Run and Mount Carmel) went out and found new opponents. Warrior Run lost to Muncy last week, and Mount Carmel added state-ranked Williams Valley to its schedule and opens Tuesday.

Loyalsock tried to work out a plan with Mount Carmel, which had positive COVID tests of its own, to play the game at a later date. But the details weren’t able to be figured out and Mount Carmel went out and scheduled Williams Valley.

Now, all Van Fleet and his team can do is turn their focus to Hughesville on Sept. 25. It took a few days after the Lancers were shut down for Van Fleet to get focused back on football again. But as he settled in to the quarantine, he was able to stay in touch with his players and discuss some concepts they’ll try to get to when they return to practice Friday and through the weekend.

“I know I’m excited to leave the square footage of my house and yard,” Van Fleet said. “This isn’t even necessarily about football or school. It’s about being able to re-enter society. I’m excited to get back to what we’d like to be able to do. This has not been ideal or fun. But watching live streams, sitting and staring at it is not the way to spend Friday nights.”

The high school football season usually starts as a marathon, and Van Fleet has learned quickly its become a sprint. Having the original schedule shortened to eight games made that fact ring home as it was. Having the schedule trimmed to six games now further drives home the point.

“We understand maybe more than any other team you have to control what you can control, but you really can’t control anything,” Van Fleet said. “We’ll all be blessed (Friday) to have a chance to get back to practice, and hopefully Monday we can get back to some normalcy.”

What Van Fleet has been thankful for over the last two weeks or so is the time he’s been able to spend with his family. He was home Thursday to celebrate his wife, Alanna’s, birthday, something he’s not normally home to do.

He’s been able to spend time with his four kids, including newborn Teddy. He’s told Tristan, Madelyn and Eleanor these last two weeks have been homeschooled weeks as Van Fleet has taught virtually from home.

“My frustration has had nothing to do with the time I’ve been able to spend with my family,” Van Fleet said. “That’s been a blessing.”

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