During talks with other coaches around the state, Thomas Dale High football coach Kevin Tucker has stressed something as they prepare for offseason workouts: baby steps.
Last week, he and his family finished more than 30 days of quarantine after he, his wife and two of their three children tested positive for coronavirus.
“I’m on the VHSL [football coaches committee], and I have been a big proponent about coaches not rushing back into these workouts,” Tucker said. “I’ve said, ‘What you’ve got to realize, guys, is my wife and I self-quarantined. We have young kids, so we can’t be but so much apart from them. We wore a mask inside the house. We washed our hands before we made their dinners, before we made their lunches, before we made their breakfasts.
“They don’t sleep in the same bedroom as us. We didn’t let them stay in the same room as us, other than when we fixed [their food], put it on the table and we’d leave. Two of the three still got it. That just shows you how fast it can spread.”
While games in the fall remain in the “to-be-determined” category, the Virginia High School League gave the green light for public schools to begin limited out-of-season practice activities last Monday in accordance with the second phase of the reopening of schools announced by Gov. Ralph Northam.
Before school divisions can start conditioning or drills, they have to get approval from the Department of Education for plans to mitigate the risks of spreading COVID-19. Some were aiming to begin activities this week, while others may not begin until early July.
Tucker wants to return to workouts and play football in the fall. But he also said he’s a little more cautious after having the disease. He’d like to see a progression of activities to try to avoid setbacks.
In guidelines issued last week, the VHSL said it wants to see sports reopen under state and local guidelines, even though it acknowledged “there is a near certainty of recurrent outbreaks in the coming months.” Schools, it said, must be prepared for periodic closures and “the possibility of some teams having to isolate for two or more weeks,” as well as regular-season games being canceled or playoffs being canceled or ending prematurely.
Among the guidelines: cleaning schedules for facilities; keeping athletes 10 feet apart indoors; having athletes work out in pods of the same 5-10 people every workout; screening staff and students before a workout; wearing face coverings when distancing isn’t possible (masks can come off when exercising); and for higher-risk sports like football, individual training, balls cannot be handed off or thrown to one another, physical contact is not allowed, and no sharing of tackling dummies and sleds.
“I would hate for Thomas Dale to get out there in August and we start football practice, and then two or three of my kids get it and then the whole team be shut down,” Tucker said.
“Or let’s say we play L.C. Bird the second week of the season, and somebody from Bird or somebody from Dale got it, and now L.C. Bird and Thomas Dale are both shut down for two weeks to monitor all the players, and we have to forfeit two or three games. That’s what I don’t want to see.
“I want to see us get back on the field and have as normal a football season as possible.”
Tucker said he’d like to see workouts start with outside conditioning, where players can be physically distanced.
“We can go into two weeks of just straight getting outside, running, conditioning, just being around the kids,” said Tucker, who has shared his views with the VHSL football coaches committee and a coaches association.
“It’s good emotionally and socially to have kids working out together. And if two weeks come through and nobody is showing a spike in the virus, let’s move into working outside and in the weight room, and throwing the football around a little bit, and using some bags. With two more weeks and no more spikes, then we move up to a little bit more. Now we can have a little more contact, where we’re hitting the sled, having a little 7-on-7-type stuff.”
Tucker also said he’d like to use those first few weeks to educate players on the virus. His family members had different symptoms, and three of the four who tested positive did not have a fever.
His wife, who tested positive in mid-May, had shortness of breath, headaches, body aches, loss of taste, loss of smell and was very tired. Tucker, who tested positive a few days after his wife, said his symptoms were like a sinus infection.
One of his daughters was sneezing and lost her sense of smell, and his son had fever and body aches.
“Right now, the way things are going, if we go out there and we start working out just for the sake of working out, and we have this huge spike in numbers, we’re going to be playing football in the spring,” Tucker said.
“But if we take baby steps and go out there and do things the right way, what the governor wants us to do, and then come August he releases us a little bit more and now we’re even closer to having a football season maybe come Sept. 1, being able to actually play, that would be our ultimate goal.”
At a VHSL meeting in early May, executive director Billy Haun and associate director Tom Dolan said they did not foresee moving fall sports to the spring, or flipping the spring and fall seasons.
Tucker said what has come out of meetings is “all coaches are in unison as saying we want to be able to play as many football games in the regular season as possible so that our kids can get exposure for recruitment and our schools can create funds for the entire athletic budget [football is a major driver for most high school athletic departments].”
“We told the VHSL, if we’ve got to cut a week or two off playoffs, so be it,” he said. “We want to play as many regular-season games as possible.”