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Baltimore County coaches weigh in on virtually instructing fall athletes

Towson High junior Peter Sorensen celebrated his second-place finish in the 2019 Class 3A cross country state championship race.
Towson High junior Peter Sorensen celebrated his second-place finish in the 2019 Class 3A cross country state championship race. (Staff photo by Brian Krista)

Fall sports with coaches and athletes working together in person was supposed to happen on Aug. 12 for Baltimore County athletes, but COVID-19 and no in-school learning prevented that.

Two days later, on Aug. 14, Baltimore County Public Schools Coordinator Michael Sye held a meeting with athletic directors and laid out plans for his coaches to do 100% virtual coaching during the first semester from Sept. 8 to Jan. 29.

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The fall virtual season was scheduled for Sept. 8 to Oct. 23, followed by the winter season, from Oct. 11 through Dec. 11, and finally the spring season, from Dec. 14 though Jan. 29.

“We have a plan for the first semester in terms of virtual coaching and working with our student athletes in virtual settings just to make sure that we stay in touch with them to help them through these very difficult times,” Sye said.

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“Nobody wants to be in this position and nobody could see this coming and we are at where we are at and lets do what is in the best interest for the kids and try to get them back out there as soon as possible.”

Winter, fall and spring high school sports competitions are scheduled to return, beginning Feb. 1 and running through June 19, The winter sports season is scheduled to run from Feb. 1 through March 27; the fall season, March 15 through May 8; and the spring season, April 26 through June 19.

The Roadmap for Return to Interscholastic Athletics and Extracurricular Activities has been approved by the state of Maryland and was developed in consultation with all 24 local school systems, schools superintendents and the Maryland State Department of Education.

Each season will begin with a 20-day preseason and will have five weeks of interscholastic athletic competition available.

Before coaches can prepare for actual competition they had to develop plans for the virtual coaching.

For Gil Stange, Towson cross country and indoor and outdoor track coach, the format is familiar.

“It’s going to be very much like our summer training, but we will have regular check-ins every week,” Stange said. “It will be like, ‘How did you do? How did you run? Is anybody hurt?’ ”

He feels the cross county and track coaches have an advantage over team sport coaches.

“We are at much less of a disadvantage than the other coaches since it’s all supposed to be conditioning,” Stange said. “For cross country, everything is conditioning, so we can tell the kids what to do and they are not missing out on anything other than that direct one-to-one contact and that real time feedback.”

Lansdowne varsity coach Shaun Murphy talks to his team during a 2019 practice. Murphy is coaching virtually in 2020 like the rest of the Baltimore County coaches.
Lansdowne varsity coach Shaun Murphy talks to his team during a 2019 practice. Murphy is coaching virtually in 2020 like the rest of the Baltimore County coaches. (Nicole Munchel for the Baltimore/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Specific visual instruction — like telling an athlete to hold their head up, run tall or keep their elbows in — won’t be available.

“That immediate feedback won’t be there, but everything else will be there,” Stange said. “We can sort of monitor fitness in a way that would be really, really hard for other coaches.”

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When they do return to competition, Stange has two seniors ready to be elite performers.

Senior Peter Sorensen finished second (16:03.31) in the 2019 Class 3A state cross country championships, helping the Towson boys to third place (130) as a team behind River Hill (70) and Centennial (103).

Madeline Till finished eighth (19:46.53) in the Class 3A state championship race and current sophomore Isabel Aldana was 12th (20:03.88) for the fourth-place Generals (150).

Dulaney girls celebrate winning a point in their victory over Western Tech last season.
Dulaney girls celebrate winning a point in their victory over Western Tech last season. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Not having the Dulaney High gym available forced varsity volleyball coach Cary Lyon to make other arrangements.

“I bought a whole bunch of outdoor court stuff and I’m just renting fields for girls to just get their hands on it,” he said. “I’ve only got a couple of rinky-dink gyms, one of them is the very first one I had my high school team in 20-some years ago. You can’t practice a jump serve because there is only eight inches behind the end line.”

Lansdowne varsity football coach Shaun Murphy was excited to get the virtual coaching started and realized the importance of mixing social and emotional connections with individual workouts.

“One of the concepts that we had was to go over college planning like for recruiting for next year,” Murphy said. “Also, football quotes, from like Vince Lombardi and stuff like that, like what it means to them so we can have group discussions.”

After the Vikings finished 1-8 last season, Murphy has higher expectations for this season with a senior-heavy squad.

Barring a setback, that season is scheduled to arrive in mid-March.

Tim Schwartz contributed to this story

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