As the spread of COVID-19 continues to impact schools, head football coaches of Class 5A teams in Johnson County have already begun piecing together back-up plans in the event spring practices are canceled.
Cleburne, Burleson Centennial, and Joshua are scheduled to start holding spring football practices in April, but the threat of Coronavirus closing school districts beyond the current two-week timeline would cancel those spring drills.
“It’s obviously not what anybody wants and it’s inconvenient,” Cleburne Head Football Coach Casey Walraven said of the current suspension of athletics. “It’s some adversity and uncertainty, especially for the seniors who have worked so hard to get themselves ready for the playoffs in sports like baseball. It’s tough for them. But I also know with adversity comes opportunity.
“... The teams that can mentally overcome what’s going on will be the successful teams. It’s not ideal, but it’s life. At the end of the day, you realize how you can’t take anything for granted because it can be gone real quick. It’s one of those things that’s out of our control but we have to stay positive and move forward and be ready whenever it clears up.”
As of now, Burleson ISD is scheduled to resume classes April 6. Burleson Centennial Coach Kyle Geller said it’s tough as a coach not being able to interact with student-athletes.
“We can email them or text them or contact through social media but nothing face to face,” Geller said. “This was supposed to be our spring break, but it’s going to be tough after that. You become attached to the kids. I’m going to miss them, ya know? A couple of them came by the office before they left on Friday, and it was almost like they were saying goodbye for quite some time. It’s just really strange.”
As we’ve already seen just in the last couple of days, many aspects of life are changing hour by hour due to COVID-19, leaving many things regarding high school athletics uncertain for the immediate future.
“It’s one of those things where it’s a minute-by-minute situation,” said Gary Robinson, Joshua’s head football coach and athletic director. “It’s changing quickly. It’s a fluid situation.”
“The district athletic directors in District 5-5A, we’ve already been texting back and forth about plan Bs and how to reschedule games and where do we go from here,” Burleson ISD Athletic Director Kevin Ozee said. “That was on Sunday when we were texting back and forth. But now everything’s changed since then. I guess you could say we’re in a holding pattern.”
If Johnson County school districts decide — or are required — to extend the closures, spring practices would be canceled, but Walraven, Geller, and Robinson have already made contingency plans if that were to happen.
“Right now, I’m staying positive and hopeful that next week’s the end of it and we come back and don’t miss a beat and stay as scheduled,” Walraven said. “But we’ll have to adapt as we go along and learn new information. If they cancel spring ball then we’ll have to adapt to that. Just planning ahead, if something happens where we don’t have spring ball, we’re going to scrimmage West Mesquite that first week.”
Walraven said they will be prepared either way; spring ball or an extra week of practice and extra scrimmage in August.
“With my experiences, I’ve been a part of a lot of non-spring ball preparations in Grandview and Kennedale, and then obviously here with spring ball,” Walraven said. “I would prefer spring ball, but we’ve been there and done that as a coaching staff to prepare if not so we can get everything where we need to get it. For us, we’re pretty established. We’ve got stability in our coaching staff and in our scheme. There’s wrinkles and things we’re going to do, but there’s not a brand-new install. It could be worse, but we’ll make it work however we need to. We’ll be prepared however we have to.”
Cleburne is still currently scheduled to open its spring practices on April 6 and then hold the Black and Gold Spring Game on May 2.
Geller said he has made back-up plans for the Spartans in the event spring ball is canceled, but it’s all about waiting for more information.
“I guess we’ll see,” Geller said. “Last I heard, we’re supposed to reconvene April 6, so depending on how that goes we’ll go from there. There’s a lot of unknowns with this whole thing, including [spring practices]. Are we going to have spring football? Are we even going to have school? When can the kids start working out again together? What do we do in the meantime? It’s crazy. President [Donald] Trump said it could last all the way until August, so you’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, does that mean we’re not going to see our kids until August?’ So there’s a lot of unknowns.”
Joshua was scheduled to open its spring drills April 14 with the Owls’ spring game set for May 15.
“If we are unable to [have spring ball], we have a backup plan in place,” Robinson said. “We have a couple schools I’ve contacted that we can play in that first scrimmage, and we’re pretty much committed to one of them. I think everybody is kind of thinking we’re probably not going to be doing spring ball but we don’t know for sure yet. But we all need to have a backup plan.”
Ozee said Burleson High School’s football program, now under the direction of Coach Jon Kitna, wasn’t going to participate in spring ball to begin with.
“I know Coach Kitna planned on not having spring when he was hired; that was his plan from day one was having that extra week in August,” Ozee said. “So he already had his second scrimmage lined up. He does things during the athletic period [in the spring] and he’s big in the 7-on-7 stuff in the summer. He likes the extra week in August. He brings a wealth of experience from the NFL with how they do their training camp, so I’m anxious to see how that all works.”
If the current “extended spring breaks” are extended even further for Cleburne, Burleson, and Joshua ISDs, coaches have also started planning on how to keep their athletes active.
“This week, they have off during spring break,” Walraven said. “I wanted them to have some time just to let their bodies rest. Starting next week on Monday, we’re going to give them ideas for home workouts. I’ll have the coaches call their position groups and check in on them, see how they’re doing, and encourage them to be working. We’re going to have to make sure that next week and whatever happens beyond, that it’s important they continue to work somehow, someway. The teams that can mentally overcome this when others may not will give you an edge. We’re going to have to continue to work ahead and keep our focus on our goals and work towards them however we have to adapt.”
The Spartans were proactive as Geller said they started preparing for the possibility of an extended closure last week during workouts.
“We kind of suspected something like this would happen last week so during our workouts we started doing bodyweight workouts to teach them a bunch of different things they could do on their own without a weight room,” Geller said. “Hopefully they do them. That’s the toughest thing. I can’t imagine — lets say it does go through July — I can’t imagine not being able to monitor any of this, that they’re in shape and things like that, which is a requirement.”
Robinson said Joshua will use technology to help “coach” their athletes if the closure is extended (Joshua ISD administration will meet Thursday to discuss if they will extend spring break into next week).
“If it’s decided we’re not going back to school, I’ll probably get with Coach Roy Williams, our strength and conditioning coach, to put together a workout plan for all of our athletes,” Robinson said. “It’s going to be hard for anybody to get in a weight room, but do some sort of workout in your house or back yard, a lot of bodyweight type stuff.
"We’ll start putting stuff together and getting it out to all of the athletes in the Joshua ISD community. It’s no different than all of the teachers putting out lessons for kids in the regular classes. That’s what we’ll do. We’re fortunate to have Google Classroom to where kids can get on the Internet and we’ll have a day-to-day workout for them there.”