Greenmen gear up for return

Jonah Rosenblum
Kent Weeklies
Aurora's Shyanne Sellers reaches for a high pass against Tallmadge last season.

Many people are excited to say farewell to 2020.

Perhaps no one is more excited to greet 2021 than the Greenmen.

After more than a month's pause, Aurora is prepared to return to winter sports competition in the opening weeks of January after shutting down in late November.

When the Greenmen shut down due to Portage County turning purple, the highest level of COVID-19 spread under the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, only girls basketball and hockey had played an actual game. Both had played exactly one. Following a full shutdown of practices and games, the Greenmen returned to practice Dec. 19 with games starting as early as Jan. 4. 

"What we're doing now from December 19 to January 4 is just strictly practice and then we will hit it pretty hard," Aurora athletic director Paul Powers said. "We’ll probably have to play like three games a week. We’re working on finalizing our schedules."

To that end, Powers warned that the schedules posted on Aurora's athletic website could change, especially as league games that were postponed are rescheduled. Beyond figuring out how to get league games in, scheduling is simply a sight to be seen, per Powers.

"I kind of call it the spring sports on steroids schedules," Powers said. "Every day, there are people looking for games like eight o'clock in the morning for that night because they lost a game at like 7:30 in the morning. It's been crazy to see these emails going across."

Gabe Elsawy takes the ball up against Tallmadge last season.

Amidst the craziness, the Greenmen have carried out a methodical plan, even when they couldn't practice at all.

"(Our trainers) had put together a four-week program since we were shut down on November 23," Powers said. "All our winter teams were working out virtually and they were doing about an hour-long workout with each team and that went over very well."

Still, even if Aurora's athletes were able to successfully stay in shape, the Greenmen decided to build in a couple of weeks of practice to prepare for their return to competition.

"That's something we work with our trainers daily about," Powers said. "They've been in on our conversations with our Superintendent (and) our school board about returning to play. Just like when someone's hurt, you just can't go back the next day and start full go. So, obviously, we felt two weeks was what we needed to kind of get up and going."

Once the Greenmen get going, it will go fast. League play will begin right away for a number of programs, including Aurora's basketball teams, which return to play against Suburban American rival Copley.

"Once we're up and playing, we'll be playing a lot," Powers said. "Generally speaking, we'll probably go boys Tuesday night, Friday night and Saturday and then try to do a Monday, Wednesday and Saturday for our girls."

For other sports like wrestling, it might not be quite as intense early.

"Our focal point is to be in Columbus, hopefully wrestling in March," Powers said. "The tradition of Aurora wrestling, obviously, it will show up at the table when needed, so we kind of ease our way back into it." 

For all sports, one thing is clear, the need to be careful.

Aurora sophomore Dylan Fishback, top, defeated Fairless junior Hayden Stutz in a district bout in March.

Powers noted that while plenty of precautions are in place, including temperature checks, there are other things that are harder to control, like what student-athletes do after practices and games are over.

"A lot of these things are caused by outside school things, activities that obviously kids like to do," Powers said. "So we fight that battle daily, too, not that we can control it, but we like to kind of educate the kids how serious this national COVID thing is."

As for Powers, his strangest year yet as an athletic director is coming to a close. He finished 2020 with a December spent largely at home, with ample time to buy Christmas presents. It was quite a departure from the normal life of an athletic director. As of now, 2021 is expected to start quite differently, with a bit of normalcy.

"I've been home a lot of nights," Powers said. "That's not usually the AD's schedule. (I) was able to do some Christmas shopping, those type of things, but as my wife reminds me, once we get back up and running, I probably won't see so much of her because we'll be at games."

Aurora athletic director Paul Powers.