After Section VIII of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association postponed Nassau County’s athletic seasons until January 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, Freeport student-athletes and coaches became concerned the delay would leave their teams unprepared and lethargic.
“The pandemic shut down parks and gyms and caused many to grow out of shape,” explained Johnathan Bloom, athletic director at Freeport High School. “We don’t want our teams returning to the field like that and out of practice.”
So the school district launched a pre-season workout program on Oct. 19, allowing fall and winter student-athletes to take part in workout sessions and drills with their teammates and coaches after school.
“We’re facing new challenges, but I’m happy to be together with everyone on the team again,” said Savannah Houghtaling, 17, a member of the girls’ basketball team.
About 530 students from the high school and J.W. Dodd Middle School signed up for the program, which operates like the schools’ hybrid-learning model: Half of the students attend practice one day, and the other half the next day. Students participating in remote-learning have also joined the workout program.
The teams are scattered throughout not only the high school and middle school facilities, but also throughout Freeport, at Cow Meadow Park, Randall Park, Glacken Park and Cleveland Avenue Field.
Bloom said that to keep up with county Health Department regulations, students are practicing outside only and maintaining social distancing throughout the program, which mostly focuses on building up the student-athlete’s conditioning and endurance.
Players must also wear masks throughout practice, but are allowed to take mask breaks when they are 12 feet apart from everyone else.
Before practice begins, the students have their temperature checked and answer several screening questions to make sure they are not at risk of spreading Covid-19.
After practice, students clean and sanitize their equipment before being dismissed in small groups to avoid any crowding.
Despite all the new rules, girls’ basketball coach Meredith Jones said her team has embraced the “new normal” as members have reunited for the first time in more than seven months.
“These kids need to be playing and working out,” Jones said. “It’s part of their identity. Without it, they’d just feel incomplete.”
Jones and her varsity and junior-varsity players practice at the courts in Glacken Park. Although the teams have never practiced outdoors before, Jones said that what was important was for them to develop chemistry with one another to avoid any awkwardness at the start of season.
Because no contact is allowed during workouts, players mostly focus on workouts and shooting drills.
Jones added that the players, 25 in total, are broken into small groups, which would help with contact tracing should any outbreaks occur.
“We’re trying to make the most of this opportunity,” said Anayah Lloyd, 15. “It feels like everyone’s starting over again as a team, but I’m happy that we’re back together to work out.”
On the high school’s artificial-turf field, boys’ soccer coach Craig Klasson has been transitioning into the workout program with his players. He said he was thankful for the program, as it would allow his 60 varsity and junior-varsity athletes to work on their endurance after such a long break.
Although the team can only complete workout sets and drills, Klasson said that just being together on the field has helped reignite his players’ competitive spirits and eagerness to compete against other teams.
“Sports was the one thing our students have been missing since the whole pandemic began,” Klasson said. “We have businesses reopening, schools reopened; everything is back except for sports. Now they feel like they’re getting back a semblance of normalcy.”
The pre-season workout program will continue until Nov. 13.