High school athletes train, hope for season during COVID-19

GEORETOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — As teachers and school administrators continue to hammer out details for an upcoming school year like no other, student athletes and coaches are preparing for the fall season of sports.

It has to be hard for student athletes to stay focused as several collegiate football conferences postponed their seasons, but at Jenison, they’re pushing ahead hoping following protocol will get them to game night.

Heather Prahl is an athletic trainer with Spectrum Health. She has been with the Jenison High School football team for a few years.

“We started out thinking how are we coming back with COVID(-19) going on. We all sat down and brainstormed: how are we being safe with hand sanitizer, how are we going to mask up with these kids being on the field and running around and working out,” Prahl said.

The protocol is clear: social distancing, masking up and a lot of sanitizing. The challenge comes in following the rules when it’s nearly 90 degrees outside and you’re training hard, hoping to make it to those Friday night lights.

“I don’t know anyone that’s comfortable wearing a mask. It’s just uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable to coach, it’s uncomfortable for our players in between drills to pull up a mask, but those are the recommendations of the MHSAA and that’s what we have to do on game day when we play on August 27th and we’re preparing for that,” said Rob Zeitman, Jenison’s football Coach.

Football practice at Jenison High School during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Aug. 12, 2020)

Zeitman along with the Spectrum Healthy Athletic trainers say the safety of the students is the top priority.

Jaden Vandalsen, a senior on the football team, says the players are doing their best to follow the safety precautions. They know if they don’t, there’s no season.

“There was hope. I was skeptical that we would even be here. So, I’m grateful we even get the opportunity to be here today,” Vandalsen said.

All the student athletes are screened before practice. They answer questions about their health through a QR code on their phones and have their temperature taken.

Locker rooms and the athletic trainer’s room are gone. They come dressed for practice and the trainers are housed in an open-air tent.

The athletic trainer’s tent at a Jenison High School football practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Aug. 12, 2020)

The athletes are careful to drink out of their own water jugs and they hand them to the trainers to refill to avoid social gathering at the water horse.

When asked if this is sustainable, Prahl answered, “We hope so for right now. We’re taking it day by day because that’s all we can do at this point. The virus is just such an unknown thing that we’re just hoping we can come back the next day.”

As of right now, the MHSAA is planning to begin all fall sports on time.

The Jenison Wildcats are scheduled to take on the Rangers of Forest Hills Central on Aug. 27.