After four months of uncertainty, local high school athletes got a much-needed dose of normalcy Monday morning.
Monday marked the first official day of practices for the upcoming high school football, girls soccer, girls tennis and cross country seasons, with volleyball’s opening day set for Aug. 3 and boys golf having started July 20. After seeing the previous school year, and with it, the spring sports season, cut short by COVID-19, coaches and athletes alike were happy to get started.
“Looking back on my life growing up, I think, ‘what if I hadn’t had sports,’” Grantsville girls tennis coach Stephen Thurgood said as he watched his players take to the court for their first practice at 7 a.m. Monday. “Growing up, that was what you looked forward to. That was important. A lot of kids were bummed last year with the boys not being able to do anything. It makes it really hard.”
There’s no doubt that the upcoming season will look different from any other. There are mandatory daily temperature checks for athletes before practices and games, and masks are required on bus trips. Thurgood had his team split into three separate groups during Monday’s practice, so if a player came down with the virus, only one-third of the team would face a potential quarantine. There are additional restrictions regarding the number of athletes who can stay in the same hotel room on overnight trips, which led Grantsville’s tennis team to cancel its annual trip to St. George because of the increased cost.
Even with those protocols in place, there is still a level of concern as the season gets underway, as Grantsville will face Herriman and Murray on Aug. 12 at Herriman High School.
“I’ve not heard anybody say anything about how long the virus stays on a tennis ball,” Thurgood said. “You’ve got all the kids picking up tennis balls and putting them in a basket and you have the potential of spreading everything all over everywhere.”
Stansbury coach Spencer Call said fans attending games this fall will have to remain six feet apart, observing social distancing. However, Call said any restrictions are worth it for the opportunity to return to the field this fall. They certainly didn’t damage the enthusiasm surrounding the first day of team tryouts, where 54 potential players are vying for 34 roster spots. Stansbury opens its season with three games in southern Utah Aug. 6-8.
“The girls are excited,” he said as the Stallions took part in an intrasquad scrimmage Monday morning. “We’ve been working all summer. They are extremely excited to get out there and we’ve got some good competition in these tryouts.
“They’re just excited to be together to play the sport they love. It does feel normal — a lot of these girls grew up playing soccer since they were five or six (years old). They had their spring season cancelled, they had (club) tournaments cancelled, so they’re excited just to get back and play the game they love with their friends.”
Later on Monday, Tooele’s football team donned the pads for the first time in preparation for the Buffaloes’ season opener Aug. 14 against Green Canyon. It was an odd summer for THS and other football programs across the state, with the cancellation of several seven-on-seven tournaments because of the pandemic. The Buffs made do with what they had, playing intrasquad games with teams drafted by their captains during the summer, as well as holding outdoor strength and conditioning workouts in place of normal weight room sessions.
Buffs coach Andru Jones said he and his players are thankful for the chance to practice and play, no matter what the circumstances.
“The kids didn’t know if they were going to have football or not, so everybody’s wanting to come out and participate — we don’t see as many missed practices,” Tooele football coach Andru Jones said. “I usually have to try and get them off the field at night because they’ll sit and play after practice forever. They’ll play catch with each other forever and they don’t want to leave. When you leave school in March and you don’t have that social interaction, it’s hard, especially as close as you are with your teammates on the field.”
Jones said fans will be allowed to attend the Buffs’ home opener against Green Canyon, which adds to the excitement surrounding the beginning of the season. Tooele’s preseason schedule also includes road games at county rival Grantsville and Class 5A Alta. However, those games will mark the first time Tooele has seen an opposing school, thanks to the loss of offseason camps and tournaments.
“We’re returning 17 of the 22 (starters), so our kids know what to expect,” he said. “There are some things we’re excited for, but it’s hard because we don’t know until Week 1. There’s a lot of uncertainty. Last year, we were able to go into the building and do film (sessions), and this year, it’s kind of like, ‘do we bring them in the building yet?’ If a kid has the virus, then we have to clean everything. There are a lot of things coming into play that we took for granted last year as far as how easy it was. Now, we have to think and come up with creative ideas to help the kids.”