High school football coaches got some good news last week.
This fall, the state department of health said that football players could practice and play games without face coverings.
And with practices starting on Wednesday for the 2021 fall football season, coaches and players are relieved.
“The players are excited about the season, especially now that we just got the information that outdoor sports don’t have to wear masks,” Stevenson football coach David Waymire said. “That helped a lot of kids to want to play. I think that was wearing on the kids more than people realize. Yeah, COVID is a real thing, but having to cover up and run and try to breathe, it’s just not fun for them.”
Castle Rock coach Aaron Gehring said he expects to see players turn out for practice on Wednesday that he hasn’t seen all summer, simply because they won’t have to wear masks.
“I think the mask-wearing discouraged a lot of players across the state from coming out for football,” Gehring said. “I’d say we had about eight guys who didn’t want to play last season because of the mask thing.”
And while there is a newfound excitement entering this season, it comes with some uneasiness. With restrictions being lifted and the return of full in-person learning, coaches worry that some players may drop their guard against the virus.
“We’re just telling them to be smart,” Gehring said. “COVID is still out there. You can still get it. We’re telling them ‘it’s your choice to get vaccinated, and if you choose not to (and) you’ve been around someone who has COVID, you have to be out 10 days, wait to get tested, make sure it’s negative.’ And that’s just how it goes.”
And then there are a separate set of protocols for those players who have been vaccinated and those who have not.
“Most kids are not vaccinated,” La Center coach John Lambert said. “So that’s a big unknown. I guess we’re going to have a list of which kids are vaccinated and which aren’t. And if there’s an outbreak, you go ‘I guess these are the kids we’re playing with.’ And maybe that will be the thing that makes a kid want to get vaccinated? I don’t know.”
Apart from the outbreak at Camas, the pandemic did not impact many football schedules during the abbreviated season earlier this year. With teams now getting a full nine-game regular season, will teams be able to play all nine games?
“That’s the million dollar question,” Mark Morris coach Shawn Perkins said. “I think we’ll play all nine, but will we have the same team for all nine?”
Lambert is less optimistic with cases on the rise again, particularly among the unvaccinated, because of the more contagious Delta strain of the virus.
“I have a feeling that the Delta variant is going to have an impact on a lot of (teams’) seasons,” Lambert said. “I don’t know how it won’t. Once we get all back together? All it takes is one or two kids. Last spring when (La Center) had to close school for a week, I think only about eight or nine kids got COVID. But because at the time we were at three-feet distancing, the kids they were in contact with accounted for like half the school. With contact tracing, it can grow exponentially.”
Coaches continue to tell their players to be diligent, make smart choices and be a good teammate.
“We always talk about doing the right thing when no one’s looking,” Perkins said. “Well now you’ve really got to take that a step forward.”
And coaches want players to embrace the excitement of the upcoming season, back in the fall where it belongs.
“Now it’s August and you’re getting ready,” Gehring said. “You’ve got the NFL going with preseason, so there’s just an excitement of getting back to normal. It’s in the fall, Friday Night Lights. You’re not playing in a freezing-cold downpour in February. If that’s the case late in November, I’m OK with that because it means you’re in the playoffs.”
And you’ve survived the fall football season of 2021. That will define a successful season this fall.