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Plymouth coach Barron thankful to be back on the field after COVID-19 health scare

For anyone out there who may not take the coronavirus seriously, John Barron would like to have a word.

The Plymouth football coach returned to practice last Friday after a harrowing few weeks during which there were times he wasn't sure he was going to live.

"It was very scary. I had a couple near death experience moments," Barron said. "It made me much more thankful of every day since I've been out of the hospital."

The 2020 season hadn't been a picnic for Barron, a highly-respected coach in his 17th year at Plymouth and president of the Indiana Football Coaches Association. The Rockies graduated 23 seniors from a team that lost 35-27 to New Prairie in the Class 4A Sectional 18 championship last year. Injuries then depleted the team further and five weeks into the season, Plymouth was winless.

"It's been a rough season on the scoreboard," Barron said. "We play a really good schedule. We've been through a lot. We had to figure things out schematically, offensively and defensively."

John Barron

The coach and the team felt like they'd begun to turn a corner in week six when they knocked off Wawasee 37-12. A night later, Barron began feeling poorly.

"It hit me right away," he said. "I had really high fevers. I couldn't eat. I couldn't taste anything. I couldn't sleep. It didn't affect my lungs until the tenth day. That's when my oxygen levels went down and we went to the ER."

Barron was admitted to the hospital, where he was administered an antibiotic IV that helped him recover. After three days and two nights, he was released, and though he had shown no symptoms for two weeks, he was not able to return to practice right away as his doctor was concerned with blood clots.

"Goodness gracious, just being upright is good," Barron said. "It was a long two-and-a-half weeks. I have four children of my own, a great extended family, and I felt all the prayers people said."

The entire program was shut down for 14 days after Barron's diagnosis and returned to practice last week.

"The staff was amazing," he said. "Everybody was involved. We had Zoom meetings and I did them when I could. It was helpful to stay in touch."

Last Friday, Barron returned to practice, a moment he and his players won't soon forget.

"The players were excited to see me," he said. "It was great to be back around the kids with a whistle around my neck, to feel like I'm human again. It was my first time on my feet in three weeks. I slept well that night."

As to the source of the virus, Barron does not know. A Health and Weight Training teacher at the high school, he was following all the safety protocols as set out by the school corporation.

"I was taking it very seriously," he said. "Our athletic department does a great job. We have a lot of COVID procedures in place. We mask 100 percent of the time. We had no weight room most of the summer, no use of the locker room. We took the (shoulder) pads out and washed jerseys separately. Everything was completely spaced, six feet at practice. I have no idea where I got it or why it affected me the way it did. It's typical of the thing you hear, how it affects people differently."

More prayerful and introspective after his ordeal, Barron has a simple message to those who somehow remain skeptics.

"Wear a mask, everywhere you go, when you're around someone you're not normally around, a family member," he said. "I don't know how you can dispute the medical profession. It doesn't take much to wear one. It's not like they hurt you. There are plenty of types out there. I'm like your typical American. I'm tired of the politics. Both sides are awful. As an educator, I worry about what adults, parents are teaching their kids. They're certainly not teaching them anything positive, about how you treat another human being."

Plymouth, which hosts New Prairie on Friday, will be playing for the first time in nearly a month. It could have played last week, but Barron didn't think the team was ready, 'physically, emotionally or mentally,' so they didn't.

"Our No. 1 priority is student safety," he said. "A lot of people have asked, concerned about the players with the rest. It's not a game, the Friday Night Lights are different, but we've had some really good, solid, full-contact practices. We've gotten after it pretty good. We've had so many changes throughout the year, personnel, but the kids have responded very well. We have some really good football players, and they're excited to be back out there playing. All that being said, we drew the No. 1 team in the sectional. New Prairie will be no easy task, but it's one we're looking forward to. There will be no excuses from us."

While it's hard to gauge how Plymouth will play after the layoff, New Prairie coach Casey McKim knows they will be facing a team with sky-high energy.

"The positive is that rest," McKim said. "I really don't think it's rust, honestly. If you're practicing the right way, it's the speed of the game. From a coaching perspective, we get so focused on things, perhaps it can bring a new love and joy to what you do, and those kinds of things have impacts on kids. They can see that excitement you have. Even if it's not, oh, we're playing for coach, it's a different mindset because you're realizing what's important. When you have things straightened out in your life, it makes it a lot easier to go and do your job, to grow and get better every day."

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