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Trainers, coaches maintain distancing at practices

Trainers, coaches maintain distancing at practices

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ABINGDON, Va. — Brad Bussey has treated all sorts of injuries and ailments during his 26-year career as an athletic trainer.

Then came the invisible challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve never had anything like this come up,” Bussey said. “There was no way to prepare.”

For the past two weeks, Bussey has been overseeing fall sports practices at Abingdon and Holston high schools in Washington County.

Before each session, the temperature of each athlete is checked with a touchless thermometer. Athletes also must answer a list of health questions related to COVID-19.

“We’re doing everything possible to keep the kids safe,” said Bussey, who teaches sports medicine at the Washington County Career and Technical Education Center. “For the most part, things are going well, and kids are getting used to the safety measures. We’re all adapting.”

Virginia High School League officials allowed schools to begin out-of-season practice on June 15. But each school system first had to devise plans and protocols that complied with the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

“We kind of knew what was coming, but we didn’t know the specifics, so that process definitely took some time,” Bussey said. “After meetings with members of our central office and other staff, we came up with a plan.”

For many schools in far Southwest Virginia, football workouts began on June 29.

During a conditioning session held last week under a blazing sun at the Abingdon practice field, every coach wore a facial covering, social distancing measures were followed, and workouts were staggered into two different player groupings.

“We take the (safety) guidelines very serious, and all our coaches wear masks,” AHS head football coach Garrett Amburgey said.

Virginia High head volleyball coach Ashley Johnson has unique insight on the pandemic and how it relates to high school athletics. She was selected to represent 2A schools during a Virginia High School League COVID-19 meeting in May.

“It was interesting to see the perspectives being brought forth from all over the state and how different the pandemic was affecting other regions,” Johnson said. “I think people from north and east of our region were surprised to hear my enthusiasm to get back in the gym considering the climate at the time.

“I pointed out that our area is fortunately less affected, and I think it was a shock to some that I could even fathom the idea of being ready to get back to the gym.”

Since June 29, the VHS volleyball players have participated in group conditioning with athletes from other sports. Johnson hopes to begin volleyball-specific sessions early next week pending the status of gym renovations at VHS.

“I have been immensely anxious to begin,” Johnson said.

The guidelines for the VHS volleyball coaches and athletes center on social distancing and the sanitizing of all equipment.

“Safety has to be the No. 1 priority,” Johnson said. “We will screen all athletes with the provided questionnaire, take and record temperature and require all athletes to wash their hands upon entering and exiting the gym.”

Each player will be required to bring their own water bottle. They will also be assigned a numbered volleyball.

“Masks are absolutely a requirement for all staff members, and they are recommended for athletes but not mandatory during conditioning,” Johnson said. “Each volleyball will be sanitized after every practice and then stored in a bag to help keep them separate.”

Johnson said her initial practice sessions will focus on conditioning and individual work at stations.

“I will be marking the floors with tape to ensure athletes are aware of their distance from others,” Johnson said. “These sessions will be much different from what we’re accustomed to. Live play will not be happening yet. That’s disappointing, but we’re happy to take what we can get.”

Johnson said her current team pep talks focus on the big picture.

“As of right now, the only messages I can deliver are ones that express hope,” Johnson said. “We’re realistic in that the VHSL is working in complete cooperation with the governor’s office. We must be patient, take the parameters we are given and make the best of them.

“After losing an entire spring season, there is much anticipation and anxiety looking forward to what the fall holds for everyone.”

Bussey, 48, said he can sympathize with young athletes who have been forced to totally change their lifestyles and mindsets due to COVID-19.

“These kids have faced a lot over the past few months, and they’ve had to grow up in a hurry,” Bussey said. “Kids are social creatures, so trying to keep them separated has been one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced. But everybody is just happy to be back doing something.”

So what about the status of the actual sporting events this fall?

“That’s the question everybody wants to know,” Bussey said. “It’s kind of a waiting game, but I feel more optimistic than I did a month ago.”

agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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