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Bird Brown: Making it through this unusual sports season should be commended | COMMENTARY

If this were a normal year...

Coaches would have poured in to the local middle schools sometime at the end of May and early June to meet their new prospective players, and provide them information on summer workouts, tryouts, instructions on how to complete FamilyID, and any other miscellaneous paperwork they would need to participate in high school athletics.

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Around the last week in June (we’re nice, we generally give our kids a whole week off in the summer), teams from around the county would start meeting to participate in fitness activities, “drop-in” play, or other school-approved, off-season training activities, and in some sports participating in an organized summer league.

On the second Wednesday of August, players would roll into their schools, check in with their coaches to ensure all paperwork is in place, pick up any necessary equipment, then join their friends and teammates for 3-4 days of grueling tryouts while competing for roster spots.

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We would have played a couple of preseason scrimmages, in many cases a preseason tournament (on a turf field in a neighboring county, so we can continue to pump our money into our their coffers), got our 12-game season in, and prepared for the next phase.

We would have been seeded for the playoffs, most likely competing against a district foe from another county, with some teams even going all the way to find themselves in the state championship at a beautiful turf stadium in some far-off land.

The season would have ended with a team banquet in a school cafeteria, a local establishment large enough to handle the crowd, or someone’s house to celebrate the season, thank the coaches, AD’s and trainers, and send off our seniors to whatever their future holds for them.

But this year was anything but normal.

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In late May and early June of this past year, middle schools (and every other school) were closed to visitors, even closed to students. The opportunity for eighth-graders to meet their prospective coaches and get information was put on hold.

Coaches and anyone else in the school system were forbidden from working with their athletes during the summer to increase fitness and reduce the likelihood of injury. Fields lay dormant as organized activities were eliminated.

Some players used the opportunity to rest, improve their FIFA or Call of Duty skills, or just stay away from the craziness. Others organized their own training where players met at an undisclosed location and tried to replicate what they would have done in prior years.

Feeling pressure from all angles, after having a season canceled in the fall, the decision was made to allow us to meet with the students that were interested in a form of Organized Team Activities the get kids off the couch and interacting with their peers and coaches. For that alone, we were grateful.

Our “Faux Fall 2020” tryouts started in mid-February, those same dormant fields now snow-covered, framing the parking lots that would host our four days of competition. The worst injury we treated was parking lot rash from an occasional slip and/or fall.

Scrimmages were scrapped, preseason tournaments put on the shelf until, well, whenever, and in preparation for our first county game, instead of being on a turf field, we actually got 2-3 days of training on real grass (and mud) to prepare for the shortened season.

Our season approached and as excited as we were, we had to deal with an outbreak of the ‘rona, most likely started at an off-campus social club gathering, then brought to several sports teams in the county. Our boys soccer team seemed to suffer the worst at the start, with seven players missing our first two games due to being home on quarantine.

As the season came winding down, there was no opportunity to prepare for the next phase, as, well, there was no next phase of our season. When our county games were over, so was our season.

No out-of-county playoffs or end-of-year banquets, yet parents scrambled to make the most of Senior Night, giving our seniors some semblance of normalcy to an anything-but-normal year.

But we made it.

A few pointers to the spring athletes and coaches starting their journey this week would include:

― Follow the rules and protocols. Administrators, athletic directors, health department officials, and coaches have worked very hard to provide the safest environment possible for our athletes.

― If you’re sick or showing any symptoms of ANY illness, STAY HOME. Your coaches and teammates will understand your absence. They may not understand your decision to show up.

― If you have been exposed or around someone who has, ISOLATE yourself until you can determine your risk. Be honest with yourself and your coaches.

― COMMUNICATE with your coaches, and if necessary, with the school nurses. Having gone through all of it in the beginning of our season, the relationship with CCPS health staff is paramount to being able to address any potential spreading issues. They were helpful in assisting me in navigating through the troubled waters with my team.

― Don’t be SELFISH. Everyone would like to get their games in this year, but if you are irresponsible and cause others to be quarantined with you, they too will miss the opportunity to play. Missing a week of games is equivalent to a quarter of your season.

― As you head in to tryouts this week, understand that you too will face some adversity this season either on or off the field. The key is to be resilient in your approach.

English ski jumper and former Olympian Michael Edwards, aka Eddie the Eagle, once said, “Resilience can go an awful long way.”

Good luck!

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