By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – There might not have been as much anticipation for the date July 6 than in 2020. Perhaps a birthday or even the occasional golf outing, but by and large, most people in the IHSAA circles have longed for Monday, July 6, for months.
The date has been circled in red marker on calendars as the official ‘welcome back’ for the IHSAA. With it was the green light for schools to open its gates again and allow practices and groups for the first time since mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic closed those doors for much of the state.
The state’s decision to shut down its IHSAA boys basketball tournament at the regional level was a landmark, but then spring sports were soon nixed as well, sending athletic departments, its athletes and communities into a panic as to when a sense of normalcy would return.
“We’ve talked with our coaches about what to expect,” said Wawasee athletic director Cory Schutz. “I think everyone is under the understanding that nobody has really done much. The first phase, the first two weeks, are limited in how much time you can spend with the kids. Two days only at three hours each day, they can’t even be back-to-back days, but they can condition four days for two hours. It’s probably what our kids need more right now than anything is to get back into shape.”
As with everything, social distancing guidelines are in place and are being strictly enforced. The area heading into Warrior Field at Wawasee has athletes met at a sign-in station with X’s taped on the ground and a checklist of expectations and requirements. Wawasee’s girls basketball coaches were out with their team Tuesday morning on the football field, masked up and working in small groups with athletes in two to three stations working separate from one another. Not a basketball in sight.
Around the area, nearly every school followed suit in some fashion on Monday. West Noble athletic director Tom Schermerhorn, who became one of the more notable COVID-19 examples in early April in just how powerful the disease can be, posted to his Twitter account a collage of photos of the Chargers back in action. Warsaw athletics had a series of returning posts on its various social accounts as well, and athletic director Matt Binkerd expressed his thoughts on the Tigers’ return.
“Excited to see kids back on campus working with coaches and following social distancing guidelines,” offered Binkerd. The second-year AD from Warsaw also noted that he was “little rusty as well” in getting back to business on his own.
Up in Elkhart County, schools also opened despite the county being one of the hotter COVID spots in northern Indiana. Following the holiday weekend, the county had reported over 3,300 positive cases in total since the pandemic started. While Nappanee and Wakarusa haven’t been as active in cases as, say, the city of Elkhart, NorthWood has been treading lightly given its proximity and connection to its county neighbors.
“ I am definitely excited to be back,” said NorthWood athletic director Norm Sellers Monday afternoon. “I have not seen our coaches or kids except for Zoom meetings since March. Some of the kids I saw this morning were genuinely happy to be back on campus as well. So far all of our kids are abiding by the mask mandate and that is truly appreciated. It is not a difficult thing to do.
“Hopefully over the coming weeks Elkhart County data will begin to decrease,” continued Sellers. “Northern Lakes Conference schools are definitely doing our part to be safe. My colleagues have been awesome giving good information freely during our weekly meetings. It is a great group of people to work with. We needed to get to July 6 and give us a chance to see how this goes.”