NP, SC football teams prepare for an uncertain season
Sometimes, success on a football is based on adjusting to an opponent. Sometimes, it just comes down to a team simply doing what it does best.
As teams practice under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic for a season whose status remains in doubt, option two is the clear choice.
"We can't control what happens, all we can do is prepare, act like we're going to have all the opportunities from the standpoint that we're here," New Prairie coach Casey McKim said. "One of the odd things is, we're all given the same information, but it impacts different communities in different ways. With Portage closing, (Indianapolis) North Central closing, you can't help but think of a larger closing, but we tell the kids all the time, we can only control some things, so let's enjoy everybody opportunity we get. Any time kids get an opportunity to compete, it's a good thing."
The list of northwest Indiana schools to suspend workouts reached 10 on Thursday with Michigan City and East Chicago doing so. M.C. is the first La Porte County school among them.
"The kids are in tune with what's going on. We're educating ourselves every day, like the rest," South Central coach Buzz Schoff said. "We want to play, we want 10 games, we want to start the tournament, but every time you go on Twitter, Facebook, you read something that doesn't push it in that direction. Our mindset is we have to worry about South Central football, how to prepare to have a nine-game season. We're taking precautions to make sure our 27 (players) don't end up getting sick. We can't worry about what's going on in other towns. If somebody else comes down with something, it doesn't affect us, other than it could cut our season short. All we can do is take care of ourselves, not come in too much contact with other people."
The irony of that is the sport is predicated on contact, a fundamental part of the game that isn't permitted in the current return phase. When will it be? No one yet knows.
"It should be an experience to bring people together. Those are the things you miss about it," McKim said. "Kids are magnets. We're telling them, 'space, space,' but that's not human nature. They want closeness and right now, we have to coach against that. Change is hard, there's no way around it, but that's what makes you strong. The more information we get, the more that's seen, the more we can respond to. We're not the ones who make the decisions. We just want what's best for the kids. If we play, stop, re-start, whatever, we're there for the kids and whatever challenges the season brings."
Control on a practice field is one thing, influencing their decisions when they leave is another.
"For two hours every day, they do what we tell them to do, but when they take off, we have no idea what they're doing," Schoff said. "I was at a graduation party, it was early, and there were 15 (players) already there and probably 300 people. Who am I to say go home? We've thrown the whole heat exhaustion issue out the window, we're so worried about the virus. We can't give a kid a bottle of water because of COVID, but they could get heat exhaustion. It's like we're sitting here waiting for something to happen. Maybe we've all inherited the herd immunity. We've been in close proximity already. We were out of school in February, there's speculation about that (being the virus)."
Schoff had 27 players for the first week of practice, minus nine freshmen whose schedule conflicted with baseball.
"(Last) Monday, we had 26 and it was 92 (degrees), so it was a wake-up call to a lot of them, like OK, we've got to do a little more," he said. "It was a little more slow-paced, a lot of talking, more than anything else, but we still got a lot done. We got some drills in, nothing too major, just trying to figure out what position everybody plays. We'll shuffle around on the fly."
McKim is new at New Prairie, so simply getting to meet the players in person was uplifting.
"I'd met some kids from distance, but it was really nice to actually be coaching," he said. "The kids are really competitive. You could see on the field, a lot of them were so happy just to be back, to have a sense of normalcy soaking in. It was a really good sign we got through the heat. We're pretty happy no one got sick. The kids were working out and those that weren't, a lot of them working. They're tough kids, no matter what. The big thing is, we're teaching new stuff, so it's really difficult getting to learn basic stuff. We slowed down a little. It takes time to get good at something, so it might take us a while to get to something else."
As teams start to find a practice rhythm, questions already abound regarding the season. Will there be one? Will it be shortened? Will there be a state tournament? Will it be delayed or even moved?
Greater South Shore Conference coaches have discussed via a Zoom meeting the possibility of a shortened schedule in which they play the four teams in their division. There's also consideration for a crossover game of some kind in week nine, whether it's match-up of like place teams or some other idea.
"A nine-game season probably isn't going to happen, that's a best case scenario," Schoff said. "What's the schedule going to look like if it's cut short and we have a five-game season, four-game season? There would be a a bye week built in that everybody can move around if they have a a positive test. A lot goes into it, officials, but four would be better than none."
While spring football doesn't seem to be on the table at this point, the possibility can't be completely ruled out should the fall season be cancelled.
"It would be something for the seniors, if they didn't get the opportunity (to play), but it causes a lot of difficulties," McKim said. "Kids could have to choose between sports, they may graduate early and be going off to college. No matter what happens, we would have the whole winter to figure out the details. I'm not inside the (Indiana Football Coaches Association), so it would be really difficult to flip flop (seasons). It would take a lot of coordination across the state."
At a small school like South Central, spring football would be taxing on other sports.
"On paper, it makes a lot of sense, but they would have to move baseball to the fall or we would run out of kids," Schoff said. "Of our starting 11, seven are baseball players. Which sport are they going to play, especially if juniors or seniors? It would really mess up stuff a lot as far as personnel. We don't want to put anyone in a situation where they'd have to make that decision. If we flip them over, we would be fine, it would work out, but what about 2021? Are we going to play football in the spring and next fall?"
Whatever the scenario, Schoff hopes a final decision isn't made too soon, even if it means a delay.
"We could get to August third and say we're not starting today, we're going to start in three weeks," he said. "It's one of those things where if they say it now and then everything dies down, now you've cut the season short. There are still a lot of questions being asked. What are we going to do? How are we going to do it? How are we going to move on? If we come back full time, we'll try to make it as normal as possible."
Ian Skornog carries the ball for New Prairie in last year's win over Penn. The senior and the rest of the Cougars are preparing for an uncertain season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Photo by Robb Quinn)