Depending on who you were and what your interests were in high school, seeing the track or a coach might bring joy or dread. But on Wednesday, as kids returned once again to their after-school conditioning, relief seemed to be the overwhelming emotion.
This week, groups of student-athletes and their coaches returned to campuses across the Santa Clarita Valley. At the Valencia High School campus on Wednesday, student-athletes — from track to baseball to lacrosse — worked out in what the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has described as “pods.”
Groups of five to 10 students, all wearing masks and keeping distance from one another, have finally been given the opportunity to get back out on the field, stretch, and drill, as long as they continue to practice their safe health code practices.
“We just started yesterday, and I’m meeting the kids at the gate, making sure they’re checked in and reminding them of the rules,” said Mike Pontius, the head track coach at Valencia.
Each student who comes onto campus must be able to present their coach with their green-colored, CrisisGo safety pass they had previously gotten on their phone. To get the entry ticket, each student must answer health questions, confirming they don’t have a fever, symptoms, or recent exposure to COVID-19.
“The kids know they have to stay safe, 6 feet apart, and have the mask on when they’re not running,” said Pontius. “Just respect each other.”
At Wednesday’s athletic conditioning meetup, there were approximately 20 of the Vikings’ track and field team members, seen stretching before starting to run their laps and do their conditioning. One could see the kids shouting to each other from behind their masks, far from one another, and each shout seemed to be greeted by a friendly response or laugh.
“We’re going to get back into it slowly but surely,” said Mitchell Albin, a senior at Valencia who runs both the 200-meter and 400-meter. “But it feels kind of relieving to actually go outside and do stuff.
“This is leaning more toward the normal side,” said Albin later, adding, “I just wanted to put some work in and see my friends.”
According to Pontius, all athletic conditioning on campuses is volunteer right now, with some athletes opting to stay home from the practices. They’ll be encouraged by their coaches to complete workouts from home and relay information back to their coaches.
A stone’s throw from the Valencia stadium rests the baseball diamonds. And while they, too, are voluntary practices, Mike Killinger said he would have a hard time keeping a single one of his 60 athletes off the field once the athletic conditioning restarted.
“Truthfully, they’re just happy to be here, they’re happy to be out moving around,” he said Wednesday. “I know a lot of them probably go out and see a few friends or play in weekend games, but you can tell they’re just happy to be back out on the field.”
Killinger said the rules for returning are being followed at Valencia High: warming up your arm can only happen between two players (that ball is then thrown to the side, not to be used again during practice); infielding and pop-up drills are allowed, but again only two kids can throw a ball between one another (that ball is also set aside); and “ghost” baserunning allows the young athletes to keep their muscle memory intact without chucking a ball around to another during that specific drill.
“I ended up getting three different sets of baseballs for the three differents levels, as well,” Killiinger said, adding that practices are also staggered throughout the week as opposed to every day.
And while none of these after-school events are typically considered “practices,” because competition between rival school teams for most forms of competition have not been greenlit, the athletes said they were simply excited to be back on the field, masks, distance and all.
“It’s definitely very different coming out now versus seeing the guys every day like how we went during the school year,” said junior varsity baseball player Zach Andrews. “But it is nice seeing them again because I haven’t seen some of these guys, you know, in months. … It’s just nice to come out and just practice with them again.”