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Schools start sports workouts after getting state OK

No one has yet said formal team practices could start in August or that the sports teams would play this fall.

St. Georges head football coach John Wilson will finally be reunited with his team Tuesday when they all meet to begin conditioning programs.

“We’re very excited and happy to be able to be with our kids again,” said Wilson, who coaches the St. George’s Technical High School’s Hawks. “I’m sure they’re going to be challenges, but when you look over everything, whatever is necessary we’re going to do to make sure we keep our kids and coaches safe.”

It’s been almost four months since Gov. John Carney closed schools and sports programs to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Delaware.

While the Delaware State Board of Education approved the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association’s plan to allow student athletes to work out together starting Monday, July 6, each district must set its own guidelines before schools can open.

Woodbridge High School Football head coach Jed Bell said his team has a plan in place and is waiting on the thumbs up from the Woodbridge School System. He knows that thermal thermometers have been ordered and expects students and their families to be asked to sign a waiver of some kind.

“Our plan is that all workouts will have to take place outdoors,” Bell said. “They will be limited to no more than 10 kids per group, no more than one coach overseeing that group.” Workouts will take place from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Tower HIll athletic director Seth Kushkin said the school was planning to send an email to parents Monday announcing conditioning there would start Thursday.

“I think just for our families, for our kids, for our coaches, more than anything else they are just excited to have an opportunity to be together and be able to gather on our campus,” Kushkin said.

Kushkin said the move is beneficial for everyone, even though no one has yet said formal team practices could start in August or that the sports teams would play this fall.

“None of us know what the future will bring,” he said. “I think more than anything it’s a positive and healthy step for all these kids and everybody to be able to gather … we’ll take any steps forward we can at this point.”

Wilson also is happy that his student athletes will be able to be together and focus on what they love. The district office was closed Monday because of the Fourth of July holiday, pushing the team’s start to Tuesday.

“They have recognized the benefit of getting our kids back on campus and being together,” he said.

Those benefits are physical, mental and emotional, he said.

“These kid have been stuck inside for four and a half months,” Wilson said. “Some of them have lost their spring season. Even the American Pediatric Society came out and said the benefit of the social and emotional connections of getting kids back in the school far outweigh the risks of them getting COVID-19.”

It’s been particularly hard on kids who have parents who work all day, leaving the kids to their own, he said.

“You’re going to see the physical activity is down among those kids,” he said, opening the door for anxiety and depression. Sports help them get out and give them something to focus on, he said.

Some sports have specific restrictions. Football, for example, is not allowed to have any contact drills.

At Tower Hill, Kushkin said, “We are just strictly doing conditioning. We will not have balls. We’ll just have kids together on a field in a socially distanced manner.”

Athletes and staff are required by the Return to Play plan to adhere to social distancing guidelines. In addition, strict daily sanitization of equipment is required. Equipment with holes and foam are required to be covered. Sharing of towels, clothing and equipment is prohibited under the plan.

Wilson said COVID-related checks required by the state and district will only take about 15 minutes at the start of every practice. For him, that means taking temperature and making sure the students fill out a survey about how they feel that day. St. George’s will keep that as a paper trail in case it’s needed later.

Bell said that if schools don’t open, he assumes sports teams won’t be allowed to play.

“I’m worried about the kids who come to school to play sports, the ones for whom that’s the motivating factor,” he said. “That’s their driving force … Not everybody comes to school with that push from home and academic mindset.”

The fall sports practices were set to start Aug. 17. The state coaches association has offered plans for practice that start on different dates all the way until the end of September. Specific details, including start dates and formats, will be discussed and approved during DIAA board meetings in July and August.

Wilson is betting that if Carney opens the economy up to a Phase 3, sports will be allowed in the fall, complete with fans in the grandstands.

“We won’t know yet if we’re going to have football this fall,” he said, “but as an educator, I think it’s important to give kids not only the opportunity to be out there and socialize, but also to get some physical activity.”

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