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A glimmer of hope for prep football

High school football practice in July? The Indiana High School Athletic Association opened the door to the possibility this week when Commissioner Bobby Cox announced Wednesday that school-sponsored summer activities may resume July 1 if there are no adjustments to Governor Eric Holcomb's multi-point plan to re-open the state. "I hope it's all good news, that we have something to look forward to," Michigan City coach Phil Mason said. "I'm going to be Johnny Optimist. We're still at the liberty of higher powers, but at least this gives us hope, something to shoot for, which is important." Coaches and players haven't been able to have in-person contact for roughly two months since the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine with communication limited to texts, calls and video meetings. The athletes have been on their own as far as workouts with guidance from their coaches. "Everyone wants to be optimistic, as well as we should be," newly-hired New Prairie coach Casey McKim said. "You're always preparing for the opportunity and this looks like the next possible opportunity and we're going to prepare the best we can. Everybody's yearning to get things back to normal and this would feel a heck of a lot normal than what we're doing right now. Nobody has any answers. It could go either way, but this is a sign that it could get better, and that's all we want." Given the unique set of circumstances, the IHSAA lifted the usual moratorium week that takes place the week of the fourth of July. "I was glad to see a date that we can start the schedule around," South Central coach Buzz Schoff said. "After the Governor's announcement, I thought July 6th was going to be the date we would be able to start, so I'm hopeful we can get started in July." Schoff has been posting workouts that use mostly body weight and take about 20, 30 minutes, focusing on cardio more than actual strength. At New Prairie, strength and conditioning coach Jim Schwingendorf has handled distribution of workouts in the time since Russ Radtke resigned to go to Portage. "That's absolutely huge," McKim said. "I don't know the details, but they've gotten together at times in small groups, maybe they had to break them up one or two times, to do their own stuff, tire flips. The kids are anxious, like everybody else is. We're going to have some meetings to set some guidelines to set forth. They want to get a little taste." At Valpo, where McKim came from, players are doing posted workouts and their group earns points with their completion to add some motivation and keep the competitive juices flowing. The coaches are meeting every Sunday via Zoom and likewise with the position groups. "It's turned more into just communicating, seeing how everybody's doing," Vikings coach Bill Marshall said. "It's been well-received by the parents. They appreciate it. It's all about resiliency, adjusting to adversity." Mason hasn't had as much contact with players though assistant coach John Maurek is doing virtual meetings with the quarterbacks. "We've got stuff we put out but they're pretty much on their own," Mason said. "It's just so hard to keep in touch with our kids. I've gotten messages from (Superintendent Wendell) McCollum and (Michigan City Police Chief) Dion (Campbell) about kids hopping the fence at Ames (Field). Our biggest concern if this really happens is eligibility. In this environment, that's part of what you have to deal with. But if we put it out that we're going to have practice July 1, we'll have our guys and then some. The kids are so anxious, that's not a concern." Should things transpire with relative normalcy from there, Mason anticipates that they'll have to keep schemes rather basic. "I think you'll see things simplify," he said. "It'll be back to what it was like when I played in the late 70s, early 80s. When we first started summer programs, it was just weight lifting and conditioning three days a week, then in July, we'd be on the field or in the parking lot in shorts and t-shirts. That's why everything was so much iso left, iso right, boot left, boot right. We won't be able to develop the younger guys we would've liked to develop them, but we'll be OK." Even with a projected schedule having been set forth, all the coaches know it's contingent upon what transpires between now and then. Should plans hold, there still remains the question of how school will look come August. "I don't want to be Debbie Downer," he said. "But if the governor says no more than 25 people in one place, what do we do? There's multiple rumors about how school is going to be. It's all turned over to the state right now."

Appearing on Indiana Sports Talk on Friday, Cox said he was cautiously optimistic about the season, believing it will happen if residents keep doing what they're supposed to do. Cox said a major issue that schools will face is how much money to spend on sanitizing locker rooms and taking other safety precautions, while budgets will more than likely be cut. He projected that it will take multiple years for schools to get back to normal financially.

The 2020 prep football season in Indiana is up in the air due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is a glimmer of hope after Indiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner Bobby Cox announced Wednesday that teams can practice beginning July 1 if the state's proposed plan to re-open the state remains on schedule. (Photo by Robb Quinn)

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