Schools across Nebraska have faced individual challenges for setting up summer workouts once the NSAA gave its clearance for weight room training starting June 1.
At Columbus High, the largest school in the area, the challenge was especially unique due to the school's enrollment. At fellow city schools Lakeview and Scotus Central Catholic, the Vikings and Shamrocks had it relatively easy in setting up four to five sessions per day for male and female athletes. That's not the case at CHS where more than 200 students required meticulous planning in terms of both safety measures and efficiency.
In the six weeks since Columbus High began, though it hasn't been easy on the staff, Discoverer athletes have responded with understanding and awareness. As July quickly accelerates to August and the opening of fall practices, it seems Columbus has found a template it may keep in place once the pandemic is over and summer training returns to normal.
“Our coaches would tell you that it went smoother than they thought. My view was, the way it went off was how I thought it would go off, the smoothness of it, in my mind that’s how I saw it," Activities Director Tim Kwapnioski said. "The coaches thought there might be a few more hiccups, but it’s gone well."
For just about six weeks now, Columbus High has followed a procedure of checking temperatures and asking pertinent COVID-19 questions prior to admitting athletes to the building for weight training and agility work.
They arrive in masks and put the masks back on when transitioning to different parts of the school and when leaving. Equipment is sanitized after each group is completed and a thorough, deep clean is undertaken every Wednesday.
The boys and girls alternate morning and afternoon sessions from day to day. The girls train Monday, Tuesday and Thursday while the boys are every day other than Wednesday. Normally, most summer sessions went Monday through Thursday.
Initially, students were divided into groups of 10 that arrived two at a time. One was in the weight room, the other in the gym or outside, and then both switched halfway through.
When the allowable number was increased, CHS only adjusted from 10 to 15 so as to maintain six feet of separation.
All of that, Kwapnioski said, has been handled well. At this point, coaches and athletes are in a solid routine.
"Safety is our number one priority," he said. "We can control what happens when they arrive at CHS, however, we need our kids to make smart decisions when they are away from our facility. I believe our parents are doing a great job of providing parameters to their kids to ensure best practices are taking place."
Once all the health directives were taken into account, the next step was determining how to organize training around such a large group of athletes.
What was 10 that became 15 means a commitment from some CHS coaches to be on campus several hours each day. In most cases, that's football coach Craig Williams.
For morning sessions on Tuesday and Friday, Williams arrives at Columbus High at 6 a.m. and doesn't leave until after 1 p.m. For Tuesday and Thursday afternoon workouts, he's there from noon to 7 p.m. He's also supported by various other coaches during those times.
Handling much of the girls' sessions are strength and conditioning coach Stacy Smith, volleyball coach Jeri Otten and softball coach Kelsey Newman.
Williams, who is also the boys strength and conditioning coach, and Smith formed the planned weight lifting program for the summer with input from the rest of the coaching staff. That's also the case for the speed and agility training that is the other half of the daily routine.
"Setting it up was a little overwhelming," Smith said. "It took a tremendous amount of teamwork from a lot of people; from Dr. Loeffelholz, to (Tim) Kwapnioski, to the East Central Health district, there were a lot of people involved in getting the plan put together. It was daunting, to say the least."
In the past, daily training included six lifts and, in the case of the boys, sometimes 60 athletes in the weight room. Now, Smith and Williams are focusing on four lifts for each session and supervising 15 at a time.
"Surprisingly, we’ve talked about how well it’s gone. I actually like the smaller groups," Williams said. "I don’t like that it’s spread out over seven hours, but I do like the fact that it’s easier for me to work with kids."
Summer lifting sessions are focused on building strength. This year, with a lack of physical activity in March, April and May, Smith and Williams built a program around injury prevention and conditioning.
The summer programs have never been overly sport-specific. Smith explains to the athletes how certain exercises apply, but Columbus has to have an eye on total development since it trails other large schools around the state in the pool of athletes it has to choose from.
"In Columbus, to compete at the Class A level, we need all of our good athletes out for as many sports as we can have them out for," Smith said. "So, we need to really focus on keeping these kids healthy and keeping them involved, and getting the best we can from all of them."
What will be required next summer in terms of masks, temperature checks and other health measures remains to be seen. What has been obvious is how smaller groups has benefited most Discoverer athletes.
Both Smith and Williams have had positive feedback on training in smaller groups. Although maintaining that approach would again require a dedicated amount of staff to be on hand, CHS coaches are willing to make that commitment should results back up athletes' preferences.
"With our numbers being one to 15, you have more time to spend with those kids to get their technique to be really good, and to be able to progress at the rate that’s best for them. The kids, the upperclassmen, will tell you they really like it," Smith said. "Our program was good, but I think we made it better. In getting every sport represented by having a coach in there, the kids knew before that their coach was supportive, but now they really know."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.
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