The Upper Arlington girls soccer team's first optional workout of the summer on June 2 had the feel of a preseason session for many Golden Bears.
With almost 90-degree heat and bright sun beating down on the turf field at Tremont Elementary School, 56 UA players went through passing drills, small games between field players and goalkeepers and rondos, which are drills between uneven groups of players that emphasize possession.
Given that the Bears had a weightlifting session June 1, it wasn't their first day back together. Still, they felt like things were getting back to normal as high school teams were allowed to begin practice after being sidelined for almost three months because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
"I've been working out on my own and it's been kind of boring, to be honest," said UA goalkeeper Abby Reisz, an incoming junior and Tennessee commit. "I play (club soccer) for Ohio Premier and I downloaded an app, Techne Futbol, for some workouts, but that doesn't have the spirit kind of thing you get when you're working with everybody else."
UA players had to sign a waiver provided by the school district and answer questions from coaches before and after each session. While sessions were optional, attendance was taken for record-keeping purposes in case a player becomes ill.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced May 26 that training for all sports would be permitted throughout the summer, and many area school districts began outdoor practices and weightlifting sessions June 1.
The OHSAA's three-phase plan includes guidelines for pre-workout screenings, an initial 10-person limit to groups within indoor and outdoor workouts and guidelines for cleaning facilities and hydration, as well as guidelines for the cleaning and lack of sharing of athletic equipment.
Schools are expected to remain in the first phase for at least 14 days and can progress to the second and third phases if documented cases of coronavirus remain flat or decrease in subsequent two-week periods.
All sessions are voluntary.
"We'll take the first two weeks to do a lot of strengthening of joints and make sure the guys are in good running shape. They've done a good job of keeping up, but there's a huge difference between working out on your own and working out with a coach," said Thomas Worthington football coach Mike Picetti, whose 113 athletes were separated into 13 groups.
Each group was led by one coach, and each got five on-field and five weightlifting sessions over a two-week period.
"The reason we did it that way is if one kid gets (coronavirus), we just have to shut down one pod, not the entire team," Picetti said.
Some area school districts, including New Albany and Pickerington, waited until June 8 to begin workouts. In both, fall teams began work this week while winter, spring and junior high sports will not return any earlier than June 22.
"We need to make sure we have a complete plan ready to go for everything. (The extra week) buys us a little time to be fully prepared," New Albany athletics director Richie Wildenhaus said, adding that the school district held a professional development session for coaches that included outlining emergency procedures. "It's all great just to work on a plan. We're excited to have that communication again about coaches getting to coach and kids getting to participate. We'll have some sense of normalcy."
The Watterson boys basketball team reunited June 4 with sessions for incoming sophomores, juniors and seniors. The Eagles planned to conduct one-hour sessions three times per week this month, on Sunday evenings and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
"Normally, (the summer) is a combination of (individual) and team work. We're optimistic that we'll be able to do some team things eventually," coach Vince Lombardo said. "We'll get through this at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later. Everybody is just trying to get back. We have a lot of multisport athletes, so it's important for them to have some balance."
Canal Winchester football coach Josh Stratton, who said his motto since early spring has been "one day at a time," was thrilled with the turnout of almost 100 athletes each day last week. Sessions were split between the Indians' turf and practice fields and divided by class.
"We hope it's not all for nothing. I hope we're doing this for a reason and that's that we will get to play football," Stratton said. "We miss our kids. That's why we got into this business. I didn't get into teaching and coaching to talk to my team through a computer."