Workouts — or something like them — returning to local high schools

Majority of local high school opening doors to in-person training

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Nordonia junior Cooper Rusk uses the bench press as Billy Levak (left) and Sal Perrine (right) spot him. Scenes like this are returning to local high schools as the OHSAA allows skill workout to return.

While official practices for fall sports won’t begin until Aug. 1, June is traditionally an important month in terms of workouts for Ohio high school athletes.

While it might not look like what many athletes are used to, June workouts seem be back for athletes in the coverage area.

Falling in line with Gov. Mike DeWine’s lifting of school facilities restrictions due to COVID-19, the Ohio High School Athletic Association lifted its no-contact period on May 26, allowing individual skill training and weight training at schools.

While the OHSAA is still not allowing any interscholastic competition, the OHSAA left it to individual school districts and local health boards to determine

Thus, working under plans approved by the Summit County Board of Health, Cuyahoga Falls, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, Nordonia, Stow-Munroe Falls, Walsh Jesuit and Woodridge all welcomed back athletes as of June 1.

Hudson plans to open its doors to athletes June 4, while Aurora and Tallmadge will do so June 8. Twinsburg has yet to set a date for its athletes to return.

While every district had its own plan, several common themes emerged. Many districts are asking athletes to sign COVID-19 waivers and submit to regular temperature and symptom checks. Any who show symptoms will be sent home and asked to quarantine.

Athletes will be asked to maintain social distance and are not being allowed to work in groups larger than 10 (including coaches). Hand washing and surface sanitizing are mandatory between workouts, and athletes are not being allowed to congregate after workouts.

There are also restrictions on “shared equipment,” meaning no one is tossing, kicking or spiking balls at the moment.

Despite all this, many athletic directors noted just getting their student-athletes back has been a big emotional boost.

“We are so excited to see all these kids on campus; it was awesome,” said CVCA athletic director Jon Young. “We have to work with our admin team. It pretty much falls right in line with the guideline from the OHSAA.

“It’s challenging. With summer, you get a lot of more things going on. We have a lot of multi-sport athletes at CVCA who might be in for several things. We’re happy to jump over those hurdles.”

Another key aspect of a comeback is access to a weight rooms, which a key element, especially for football.

Nordonia and Cuyahoga Falls note they have access to weight rooms as part of the stations for their team’s workouts.

“Everything is being sanitized. We’ve left time slots to clean up between teams using them,” said Nordonia athletic director Rob Eckenrode. “We’re trying to be diligent with everything. We’re just trying to get back to everyone being good with the training and conditioned.

“It’s been good so far. Everyone has been very cooperative. Coaches are working together.”

That said, Nordonia football coach Jeff Fox notes Mother Nature has not always cooperated, as a lightning strike Wednesday brought a premature end to outdoor workouts.

“I’m frustrated,” Fox said, with a laugh. “We were scrambling. We didn’t want to risk sending all the kids indoors.”

Falls athletic director Kenny Johnson had dealt with his own frustration, as an issue with the gym floor at Falls will keep his volleyball and basketball teams sidelined until June 8.

However, Johnson noted Falls has gotten creative to allow more access to its weight machines.

“I split our weight room,” Johnson said. “We’ve created another weight room to our old gym. Most of our leg machines are in there, while our upper body stuff is in our original weight room. It’s a way to get more access for all of our kids.”

Meanwhile, the weight room remains off-limits at Stow and Woodridge for the moment.

“Our challenge in the weight room is that it’s fairly small,” said Stow athletic director Cyle Feldman. “It’s hard to social distance. We’re taking a few 45-pound weights outside at this point.

“We’re looking at sending weight-room activities into the auxiliary gym. We’re trying to make it safe. We’re just not quite there yet.”

Woodridge athletic director Nick Mayer said he’s waiting on health officials to give the green light to open his weight room.

“We reopened on June 1 for outdoor facilities only,” Mayer said. “We are still waiting confirmation from the Summit County Health Department for reopening of our indoor facilities. We have our kids spread out appropriately at this point.”

When Hudson opens, athletic director Mike Chuppa noted it will only open its outdoor facilities to student-athletes. He noted some Hudson teams will get a later start due to coach’s choices.

“I think the safety of our student-athletes and the safety of our coaches will drive all the decisions that we make,” Chuppa said. “We have worked quite a bit with the Summit County Health Department for anything we have done over the last few months.

“There are a lot of moving parts. There is a lot of working together to try to create an environment to have them all of us move as one.”

Aurora and Tallmadge are coming back on line a bit later for different reasons. Aurora athletic director Paul Powers said he was still waiting to hear on some details from the Portage County Health Department.

Powers said he wanted to take an abundance of caution in welcoming the Greenmen back.

“You have to take in the state guidelines and you have to work them into your facilities,” Powers said. “You have to allow for social distancing why do these things.”

A longtime member of several OHSAA boards, Powers sounded cautiously optimistic about starting the fall season on time.

“I’m hopeful come Aug. 1 that things can get back to normal,” Powers said. “I don’t think normal is going to look like last year’s normal. At the end of the day, we need to have a safe environment for all student-athletes.”

Meanwhile, Tallmadge athletic director Tim Mosher noted his school’s later return was administrative in nature.

“Technically for us, our [2019-20] school year wasn’t supposed to end until June 4,” Mosher said. “With us not having classes, we’re not going to be starting athletic work for next school year while we were still in this school year, if that makes sense.”

When Tallmadge does allow its athletes back, Mosher said his weight room will not be immediately open.

“We’re taking the approach that our plan has been approved through Phase 2 by the Summit County Board of Health,” Mosher said. “We want to take a very measured approach. It gives us the ability to give our kids to just get back in shape before starting any sport-specific training.

“Our weight room is not open until we get into Phase 2,” he added. “We don’t want to rip the Band-Aid off too soon. We don’t want to have spikes [in coronavirus] and then have community spread.”

Twinsburg athletic director Brian Fantone said, as of Wednesday, he did not have a date set for athletes to return.

“For our school district, health and safety is the No.1 top priority. We are gathering as much information as we can,” Fantone said. “We have spent a great deal of time with all the coaches looking for the most safe environment we can create.

“We are not there,” Fantone added. “We’re still working on it. We’re not going to do it until we feel comfortable. Rushing into this right now is not the answer.”

Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, or @MLeonard_GAN on Twitter.